Europe’s migrant problem and the problems refugees face in EU!

Europe’s migrant problem and the problems refugees face in EU!

-Dr. Abdul Ruff


The European migrant crisis 2015 or European refugee crisis arose through the rising number of refugees and migrants coming to the European Union, across the Mediterranean sea or Southeast Europe, and applying for asylum. They come from areas such as the Middle East (Syria, Iraq), Africa (Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia), the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia) and South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh). According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of early September 2015, 71% of the Mediterranean Sea arrivals are refugees coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea.  Most of the migrants are adult men (72%). The phrase “migrant crisis” rose to popular use in April 2015, when five boats carrying almost two thousand migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with a combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people.

According to Eurostat, EU member states received 626,000 asylum applications in 2014, the highest number since the 672,000 applications received in 1992. In 2014, decisions on asylum applications in the EU made at the first instance resulted in more than 160,000 asylum seekers being granted protection status, while a further 23,000 received protection status on appeal. The rate of recognition of asylum applicants was 45% at the first instance and 18% on appeal. Four states – Germany, Sweden, Italy and France– received around two-thirds of the EU’s asylum applications and granted almost two-thirds of protection status in 2014; while Sweden, Hungary and Austria were among the top recipients of EU asylum applications per capita

The foreign-born population residing in the EU in 2014 amounts to 33 million people, or 7% of the total EU population (which amounts to more than 500 million people). By comparison, the foreign-born population is 1.63% of the total population in Japan, 7.7% in Russia, 13% in the United States, 20% in Canada and 27% in Australia. Between 2010 and 2013, around 1.4 million non-EU nationals, excluding asylum seekers and refugees, immigrated into the EU each year using regular means, with a slight decrease since 2010.

Prior to 2014, the number of asylum applications in the EU peaked in 1992 (672,000), 2001 (424,000) and 2013 (431,000). In 2014 it reached 626,000. According to the UNHCR, the EU countries with the biggest numbers of recognized refugees at the end of 2014 were France (252,264), Germany (216,973), Sweden (142,207) and the United Kingdom (117,161). No European State was among the top ten refugee-hosting countries in the world.[29] Prior to 2014, the number of illegal border crossings detected by Frontex at the external borders of the EU peaked in 2011, with 141,051 sea and land irregular arrivals.

As thousands of migrants started to move from Budapest to Vienna, Germany, Italy and France demanded asylum-seekers to be shared more evenly between EU states. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed to take in 160,000 asylum seekers under a new migrant quota system to be set out.

A surge of desperate migrants from the Middle East and Africa has put unprecedented pressure on EU countries, especially Italy, Greece and Hungary. More than 350,000 migrants were detected at the EU’s borders in January-August 2015, compared with 280,000 detections for the whole of 2014.

The conflicts raging in Syria and Afghanistan, and abuses in Eritrea, are major drivers of the migration. More than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, trying to reach Greece or Italy. Many attempt the perilous Western Balkans route, hoping to reach Germany and other northern EU countries. They run the gauntlet of brutal people traffickers and robbers.

The 19 April shipwreck was the “biggest human tragedy of the last few years”. Hollande described people traffickers as “terrorists” who put migrant lives at risk.

Europe has been a favourite destination for jobs seekers and tourists alike for years. As more and more foreigners come to settle down in European nations, the EU finds the   exodus of populations from abroad highly difficult to manage.

Finding credible solution as a priority remains paramount as the stream of migrants could continue for many years. The European Union is now trying to develop a comprehensive policy to tackle the explosive like migrant problem. A far greater number of refugees who have fled Syria get only as far as neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. These people need ongoing, substantial foreign aid, and their plight should not be overshadowed by the European drama.

As thousands of people keep flooding into southern Europe from war-torn regions of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe finds the trend increasingly challenging.  Refugees find the cold attitude of some of the recipient EU nations to them shocking, too.  For them it is now a journey of mere hope and hardship.

Europe’s greatest migration crisis since World War II is testing the ability of the European Union to find an effective and humane response. EU is trying a policy in which each member state would be allotted a quota of migrants to accept. But conditions within the EU vary greatly, both politically and economically, making quota-setting a tricky business.

However, Germany should be applauded for the warm welcome it is extending to migrants. Ordinary Germans have headed to train stations to greet the newcomers with smiles, applause, and even water and needed supplies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is “proud and grateful to see how countless people in Germany are reacting to the arrival of the refugees.”

Images from France and Germany over the weekend were nothing less than heart-warming. Hundreds gathered at a Munich train station to wave balloons and call out “Welcome to Germany” amid cheers and clapping. Thousands gathered across France to demand the government do more for asylum seekers hoping to reach Europe.

Even in countries like Germany, which is perhaps the most receptive to asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere, there are already signs of a public divide over how much commitment, financial or political, Europeans are willing to make.

As Germany has labor shortage and also needs workers,  the win for migrants may be a win for Germany as well. Its population is aging, and an influx of hundreds of thousands of new workers over the coming years will be needed to keep its economy surging. If migrants can be integrated successfully into German society, they will provide a tremendous engine of prosperity. “Most refugees are young, well educated, and highly motivated,” Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, said in a newspaper interview. “Those are exactly the people we’re searching for.”

French public sentiment, likewise, is not monolithic. On one hand, Airbnb-like programs launched across France in the last week, connecting refugees with families willing to host them for days or months. The Singa organization has already registered 600 housing offers across the country. President François Hollande called for accepting 24,000 refugees over the next two years and pro-migrant gatherings sprung up over the weekend across the country.

It seems reasonable that all of Europe bear some part of the load. But other EU countries are not in a position to benefit in the same way. Their populations may be already growing and their economies can’t easily handle an influx of eager job seekers. Some face substantial internal opposition especially to the migration of Muslims into their countries.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission says: “We Europeans should know and should never forget why giving refuge and complying with the fundamental rights is so important.”

An orderly way of processing new immigrants must be established and maintained, with preference given to those who are truly fleeing danger in their home countries. The EU estimates that 2 out of 3 migrants qualify for this status. Those who seek only a better economic opportunity, as legitimate as that motive may be, may have to be sent home eventually.

The borders of the United States aren’t directly challenged by this immigrant wave. But the US must stand ready to step up its commitment, including accepting some of the refugees on its own soil.

Meanwhile, the international effort to encourage stable and democratic governments in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan must go on. Many migrants would gladly return home if conditions there would allow them to live in some reasonable degree of peace and security.

Until then the EU, with a population of a half-billion people, will be asked to do its best to host hundreds of thousands of newcomers. That’s not an easy task, but it’s not an impossible one either.

As the European Union tries to share the burden of the largest mass migration since World War II, its plan to enforce a quota system has been creating tensions across the 28-member bloc.

If any country has unleashed a humanitarian spirit thus far it is Germany, where the majority of asylum seekers have headed this summer. The country recently said it expects to process 800,000 asylum petitions by the end of the year – four times more than last year – and can afford to accept half a million refugees each year.

At Munich’s Central Station, volunteers arrive every few minutes to donate clothes or food. The train station has become the entry point for thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom were stuck in Hungary over the last week as the country closed its borders. Some 20,000 people arrived over the weekend. In a recent poll commissioned by German broadcaster ARD, 88 percent of people said they would donate money or clothes while 67 percent said they would volunteer to help the asylum seekers.

In the ARD poll, 37 percent of respondents agreed that Germany could handle the current flow of refugees. Twenty-two percent said they should take more and a third said they should take less.

But recent surveys suggest support could be superficial. A recent Oxoda poll showed that a majority of those surveyed are opposed to the French government’s decision to accept more refugees. The same poll showed that 61 percent were in favor of France sending ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State, suggesting that the French public is more comfortable with handling the refugee crisis from outside French borders than within.

However, France – like Germany – will take the brunt of an EU Commission plan to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from Greece, Italy, and Hungary across most of the 28-member EU. Like many parts of Europe, French reticence to accept more refugees stems partly from the country’s complex history with immigration.

Mathieu Tardis, a researcher at the migration and citizenship center within the Paris-based think tank IFRI says the immigrants have always been the scapegoats in France, and the government has not always had a responsible discourse on immigration.

Keeping anti-immigrant or populist sentiment at bay will be a challenge for both France and Germany. Far-right groups in Germany have already virulently protested their country’s leading role in accepting asylum seekers, with a rise in hate speech, arson, and physical attacks.

In France, the anti-immigration rhetoric has largely been led by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, but it has hit mainstream politics as well. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is considering a 2017 presidential bid, recently called for an end to the Schengen zone and compared Europe’s migrant inflow to a “leaky tap.” Several mayors have said they will only accept non-Muslim migrants into their communities.

One issue is the increasing distinction of what type of migrant deserves Europe’s help. The politicians convince the populace to take in refugees, they are drawing lines between economic migrants and refugees, between those who are “legitimate” and those who are not. “It is a political discourse that is half welcoming, half blocking,” he says.

The difference between a migrant and a refugee could be problematic once France and Germany begin placing people in state-subsidized accommodation. While the state technically has enough space to deal with the demand, those considered refugees will probably find housing relatively easily while economic migrants or those without French papers could be waiting a long time for help.

It is Europe today that represents a place of hope and a haven of stability in the eyes of men and women in the Middle East and Africa,” Jean-Claude Juncker argued. “This is something to be proud of and not something to fear.”  Perhaps so. But it also pushes the EU into new and uncertain territory.  The idea of mandatory quotas of arriving refugees will continue to be controversial. But countries like Spain and Poland that had criticised the proposal have softened their positions.

Extremely harsh words were spoken at a migration summit earlier in the year. Over the summer, though, the sheer scale of the refugee problem has concentrated minds. Turning the idea of quotas into a permanent scheme to deal with future crises will be even more difficult. With Germany and France on board, though, the momentum is there. But EU leaders know that such displays of “solidarity” need to be combined with other practical proposals: for strengthening external borders

It means Europeans are going to have to ask some fundamental questions of themselves. Do they really care as much as they like to think they do?


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