The Mediterranean Crisis of Les Misérables

By María Carmen Martín Palacios

One day more. Another day, another destiny. This never-ending road to Calvary. When I first heard Jean Valjean´s lament, the main character of the acclaimed Broadway musical and Victor Hugo´s masterpiece, I was only a six-year old child that hardly understood what being a refugee implied. Seventeen years later and after having devoted my graduate studies to the analysis of International Relations, I do not only understand the depth of Jean Valjean´s claim, but I can´t help to identify it in every refugee that has arrived at the European coastline since 2011.

One day more. Another day, another dinghy, another shipwreck. According to UNHCR, only in 2017 three thousand lives were lost in the Mediterranean Sea. The continuous news´ announcement of the drown of refugees in what has become a massive underwater graveyard keeps reminding the European Union that it is pointless to pretend that this crisis will be autonomously resolved. Despite the celebration of several meetings since the outbreak of the crisis, including the controversial Turkey Accords of 2015, few policies have proved to be effective and the arrival of migrants has only increased in the last months.

As years have passed, the initial spirit of collaboration between European members has become blurred. This is seen not only in the inefficient management of this crisis, but also in an undeniable reality that defies the principles of Europeanism: the collusion between the priorities of the European Union and those of its members. Although the refugee crisis has been presented as a core problem of the Union, at the end of the day the countries most affected are its coastal members. These countries struggle with the massive growth of the refugee centers while they regard the apparent passivity of Northern European countries.

This feeling of grievance has given rise to populist and anti-immigration parties, which are gradually reaching power and complying their electoral promises. For instance, the new Italian Administration has reinforced their campaign discourse by denying asylum to the passengers of the Aquarius ship, demonstrating the firm position of the new government towards refugees.

Regardless of the length of Giuseppe Conte´s Administration, Italy´s response is only a warning of what is yet to come if the European Union does not enforce its compromise with more concrete and cohesive actions. The development of a Common Migration Policy is imperative to tackle one of the most severe humanitarian crises of the century and to alleviate the pressure on Mediterranean members. Otherwise, the European Union will fuel Euroscepticism and challenge its own survival. 

Meanwhile, the daily arrival of dinghies keeps reminding of the urgent need for action, while Jean Valjean´s lament resounds:

Tomorrow we will discover what God on Heaven the EU has in store.

One day more.


María Carmen Martín Palacios is a fifth year student at the University of Pontificia Comillas where she studies Business Administration and International Relations.