19 Jan 16 08 Dec 16

Obstacle course to Europe: EU policies dramatically worsened the 2015 refugee crisis

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) denounced the European Union’s catastrophic failure to respond to the humanitarian needs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Europe in 2015 in a new report released today.

“Not only did the European Union and European governments collectively fail to address the crisis, but their focus on policies of deterrence along with their chaotic response to the humanitarian needs of those who flee actively worsened the conditions of thousands of vulnerable men, women and children,” said Brice de le Vingne, Director of Operations for MSF.

Unprecedented measures

Through the testimonies of MSF staff and patients, as well as medical data collected over the course of 2015, the report titled “Obstacle Course to Europe” details the humanitarian consequences of Europe’s actions and explains how Europe’s walls forced MSF and other humanitarian organisations to radically scale up activities at the entry points of Europe.

Never before has MSF had so many medical and humanitarian activities and staff in Europe, never before has MSF decided to mobilise search and rescue ships to save lives at sea.

“The fact that people are searching for safety and a better life in Europe is not a new phenomenon”, continued de le Vingne .

“On the contrary, it is one which we have been familiar with for many years but early in 2015, with the Mediterranean turning into a mass grave, we decided we could not look on from the shore.

“In 2016, European countries must take stock of the human cost of their decisions, assume their responsibilities and learn from their mistakes.”

Click on the image to download a PDF of
THIS IS NOT A GAME: The life and death obstacle course to Europe'

“Europe has done an atrocious job”

The report describes the obstacles the EU and European governments placed in the way of more than one million people, most of who are fleeing war and persecution:

  • No alternatives to a deadly sea crossing were provided.
  • Razor wire fences were erected.
  • Administrative and registration procedures were continuously changed.
  • Acts of violence at sea and at land borders were committed.
  • And, completely inadequate reception conditions in Italy and Greece were provided.

Europe has done an atrocious job.

“People will continue to risk their lives”

Having conducted more than 100,000 medical and mental health consultations, MSF collected a dramatic and representative overview of the consequences of these obstacles on people’s health, both mental and physical.

“It may be a new year but we know that people will continue to risk their lives and no restrictive policy will stop them from seeking a better future for themselves and their families,” says Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF’s Humanitarian Advisor on Displacement.

”We continue to call for a safe passage and urge Europe to stop playing with people’s lives and dignity.”

“This crisis is far from over and assistance remain completely insufficient in Italy, Greece and the Balkans”, continues Ponthieu.

“During 2015, European states tried to find policies to protect their borders from vulnerable people. We hope that in 2016 there will be no more need to protect these people from European policies”.

Find out more about MSF's response to the European refugee crisis