Why Do Refugees Risk the Deadly Boat Crossing to Europe? It’s the Law

By Scott Burris

This morning I heard an NPR story that began, “Why do so many refugees from the Middle East risk the dangerous Mediterranean crossing in rickety boats?”  The answer, in the story, was an account of the miseries of a family stranded in Aleppo.  Why do people risk so much to flee? Because life is so bad where they are.

There is plenty of misery in the war-torn Middle East, but if the question is “why do people flee in dangerous boats run by ruthless smugglers,” NPR did not have the right answer.  Hans Rosling, the Swedish epidemiologist and humanitarian, has offered a better one: the EU regulation that requires airlines that fly in asylum seekers who do not qualify to fly them out again at the airline’s expense. (Watch his video here.) Airlines just won’t allow people without the proper visas to board, even if the law would. Yes, it’s the law that puts people on boats.  Flights from the region’s airports to Europe are cheaper than the deadly boats.  As we are seeing now, many if not most of these refugees qualify for asylum.  EU law does not require asylum seekers to have visas or be granted asylum before they board the plane.  But by placing the economic risk on the airlines, the EU essentially delegates the asylum decision to the most risk averse and least responsible player in the process.

Here’s the math.  The Abdullah Kurdi family of four, whose two children drowned, reportedly paid €2,000 each for the trip, well over $8,000, to get from Turkey to Greece.  On Travelocity today, German Wings had a flight from Istanbul to Berlin with seats at $84.

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