European Migrant Crisis: Unceasing and Unresolved
Dubbed “the largest migration crisis since the Second World War,” the European Union Refugee Crisis began in late 2015 as the violence caused by the Syrian Civil War and the Islamic State intensified.
Dubbed “the largest migration crisis since the Second World War,” the European Union Refugee Crisis began in late 2015 as the violence caused by the Syrian Civil War and the Islamic State intensified. Braving unpredictable sea conditions, below-freezing temperatures, abusive smugglers, and traffickers, refugees sailed across the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded rubber plastic rafts. By the end of 2016, approximately 5.2 million refugees from mainly Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan arrived on European shores—only to suffer at borders as the European Union (EU) squabbled over limited refugee quotas, overflowing refugee camps, and closing legal routes into the nations.
Although the EUEU finally declared the crisis as over in March 2019, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic sparked a resurgence of problems in the Middle East and Africa, such as extreme economic hardships in Tunisia, causing another wave of sea arrivals in southeastern Europe. The new crisis proves worse than its predecessor—travel restrictions and transport routes closures force refugees to take even riskier, illegal routes on flimsier boats. The current European response is also harsher than in 2015. Greece exemplifies European hostility; reports of the coast guard returning incoming refugees to sea and vigilante mobs blocking rescue boats provoked both outrage and Greek denial. For the refugees able to enter a country, they are immediately quarantined on pleasure boats or oil tankers with little access to healthcare, as their mandatory two-week stay often jumps to six weeks. Meanwhile, overcrowded migrant camps and centers are a perfect environment for a Covid-19 outbreak—for example, Lampedusa, a 90-person capacity camp, struggled with 1,300 residents in September.
Europe's inability to create concrete solutions and recognize the crisis at hand caused its disastrous response to the refugee crisis in 2015. Now, as Covid-19 forces another resurgence of refugees to Europe, nations must redeem themselves. While some may argue that delegating money to these refugee camps and accepting these refugees will only deplete national resources and create anti-immigration complaints, what Europe should be concerned about is not what they have to do, but what will happen if they do not act now. Warding off these refugees and turning a blind eye to their meager living conditions will only create much more drastic economic and political problems for these countries in the future, such as a tarnished international image and a greater cavity in their national funds.
To begin the solution-making process, we must first recognize the valid challenges and frustrations that the EU faces with their refugee crises. The 2015 street protests of the anti-immigration and anti-Islamic groups increased inter-communal tensions and refugees’ flight to segregated enclaves, greatly limiting their opportunities for societal integration. Understandably, member states find this intense backlash exhausting and overwhelming.
Such backlash, however, will extend to the poor handling of its refugee crises. If Europe continues to deny refugees, it will only cement their reputation as inhumane and irresponsible members of the international community. In other words, Europe will spend more money and effort on trying to regain its global standing after dismissing the crisis than actually dealing with it, affecting these nations both politically and economically.
Additionally, ignoring the inadequate state of these refugees’ living conditions and aggressively treating them at the borders forebode danger. First, as the risk of contracting Covid-19 increases in refugee camps—in July, 129 migrants tested positive at the Treviso camp in Italy—the risk of outbreaks spreading to the rest of Europe increases as well.
More frighteningly, the National Bureau of Economic Research once warned in 2016 that “social isolation seems to induce radicalization” as “difficulty of assimilation” increases “ISIS’ appeal to impressionable youth;” in other words, desperate outcasts, trapped in a disaster without hope or guidance, often turn to extremism and violence as outlets. When Europe callously turns away refugees as unwanted criminals, they only encourage future crime and radicalization within refugees’ countries of origin. Such extremists’ hatred of Europe will never confine itself within their home regions.
Thus, to effectively handle this crisis, Europe must establish solutions tailored to both refugees’ and European needs. In 2015, Europe’s hyperfixation on the numbers of entering refugees led to the neglect of their camps’ conditions, most notably resulting in France’s infamous Calais Camp. Even if Europeans do not ultimately house all refugees, they still should improve their refugee camps and establish better standards of living for their residents. While investing in these camps may seem like an additional burden to the countries’ already depleting financial resources, if these camps are not maintained, the consequences of a potential outbreak will far exceed current costs.
Most importantly, the European Union must strengthen its system of relocating refugees from major destinations— such as Italy, Greece, and Hungary—to other member states. The previous failure of such programs lay mainly in Europe’s stubborn mindset; Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek had rejected the system by declaring, “Countries…should keep control over the number of those [they] are able to accept and then offer them support.” But Europe must accept that the refugee crisis has spiraled out of their control—now, only regional cooperation can save the continent. In 2015, countries understandably closed their borders to these refugees because the sudden influx of millions of people to a mere four or five countries meant that many governments could not sustain such immigration; however, ensuring that refugees are relocated to other nations this year will protect more individuals seeking asylum. A fair, even distribution of refugees not only lessens the overall strain on Europe, but also allows nations to focus on a smaller group of refugees and provide better resources at a lesser cost for reintegration programs.
With their very reputation and safety at stake, Europe currently dangles on the edge of an abyss. If they dismiss the rising refugee crisis as a problem of the past, they will only cause its own fall from grace. Yet hope remains: once the continent regains control over the crisis through cooperation and collaboration, they can salvage both innocent lives and Europe’s future standing on the global stage.