პარასკევი, ოქტომბერი 20, 2017
Text Size

European Refugee Crisis

European Refugee CrisisThe year of 2015 was one of the most difficult ones for the Europe. It was the year the ongoing refugee crisis took place. As a result of the war that plunged Syria in chaos, this processhasbecomeone of the hot debated topics. Because of the war, poverty and persecution,countless people are forced to leave behind their home and seek shelter in Europe. To do so they often use illegal ways of crossing borders within and into Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, or being smuggled through various means. It is the reason, the desperate search for the shelter often results in a tragic death for many refugees. Leaving aside the sheer number of Syrians entering Europe, the crisis is further fuelled by the fact that Europe (the EU especially) is not united in solving this problem. To say the least, not every European country is willing to accept refugees and some of them go as far as closing borders and imposing very strict border and migration control to prevent them from entering the country. The reasons for their actions are different.

Before looking into the past year's events itself, it is important to state why the crisis became such a heavy burden for the EU countries especially. As mentioned before, not every European country expressed its willingness to accept the victims of the Syrian Civil War. Though it would be more precise to say that the reason the refugee crisis happened in the first place, was the very late reaction from the EU countries. The ongoing war in Syria started in 2011, which means that the refugee crisis did not occur suddenly in 2015, but was rather an ongoing process that was not given attention at that time. As soon as the civil war broke out, people were fleeing their homes, trying to reach safe haven in other countries. Contrary to some opinions, the refugees were already crossing the sea to Europe in 2011. The difference is that the European countries did not react to the problem at that time and were trying to avoid legal and moral obligations of accepting the victims of war, or granting the shelter to only a small number of people whose lives were in danger. As a result, this became the burden of the Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, each of them sheltering around million Syrians who left their country, resulting in 'villages' of asylum-seekers.However, the Europe itself knew that it would not be able to avoid that responsibility that they had towards the people seeking shelters and leaving their homeland for preserving lives.

And indeed, the Europe's ignorance and false hopes of avoiding obligations was short-lived. All it required were photos of a young Syrian boy, AylanKurdi, whose body was washed up on the coast of Turkey, as his family was trying to reach Greece. As mentioned by the head of the UN Refugee Agency,AntónioGuterres, it was a "defining moment" for the whole Europe. This whole situation begs a question: if such horrible incidents were indeed taking place, then why were the European countries so reluctant when it was the matter of life or death for thousands of refugees. As it turns out the answer is in fact quite simple –the EU countries wanted to avoid additional responsibilities. Once the person seeking the asylum has entered specific country, the government should provide them shelter as well as respect their individual rights regardless of their race, gender, religious or political beliefs and etc. In short the European countries would have to (and eventually had to) provide a large number of humanitarian and financial aid, as well as, helping the refugees integrate within the community and provide them with at least temporary jobs, which, of course is not something every country wishes to do. While this was true for the European countries before the actual crisis took place, some of the Central European countries view refugees as a threat to their national and religious identity. As majority of the asylum seekers from Syria are Muslims of the 'Arabian' origin, the Central European countries do not wish to let them integrate into the European societies. For that reason, countries such as Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary refused to accept them, with Hungary using methods such as building fences and imposing very strict border control. Even though Hungary received a heavy criticism for its actions, the accusations disappeared when the other countries started to follow the example.

As a result the response towards the European Refugee Crisis was quite divided. It was countries such as Germany, Finland, the Benelux countries, Sweden and Austria that decided to take the burden and accept the asylum seekers (Greece and Italy no longer restrained refugees and allowed them to move on to anywhere the wished to). As a result, by the second half of 2015 there was a great divide between the European countries, each having a drastically different view regarding the solution of the crisis: On one side, it was the coalition of the above-mentioned countries that were willing to provide help for the Syrian refugees and let them inside their country's borders; while the other side of the divide, consisted of theVisegrad countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) who adopted common positions hostile to the relocation of refugees. This situation showed that Europe's unity was already weakened significantly by the past Eurozone crisis. By looking through history, it becomes evident that it was the crisis over Schengen that caused the unity and solidarity among the 28 members of the EU to deteriorate step by step. "The single currency's slow economic recovery, the weak political leadership of the EU, and the rise of populist anti-EU parties in many member states" resulted in a mistrust towards the organization itself and break of unity. Because of these reasons, it was usually Germany, which would assume the role of the leader and try to shape the EU policy according to its interests. Whenever it was the issue of Greece staying or leaving the EU, or responding towards the Russian aggression in Crimea, it was always Germany, as the economically most powerful member of the EU that would take major part in any solution or have the ability to take decisions on the behalf of the whole European Union. However, the situation changed in 2015. The Germany's open policy towards accepting the refugees fleeing from Syria and other countries, resulted in a very negative attitude from the fellow members of the European Union. Many people were blaming Berlin for 'forcing' other countries into accepting the people seeking for an asylum. This sort of scepticism towards Germany's policy was mostly occurring in the Central and Eastern European countries.

The additional aspect that played a big role in worsening the crisis was the big diversity in the attitude of the European societies towards this serious issue. As it turns out it was not just the Central European countries who did not like the idea of welcoming refugees, but also countries such as France and England. These two countries were primarily concerned about the rapid immigration costs as well as potential threat that the 'illegal migrants' might have posed against them. The attitude can also be clearly seen through the terminology they use. While Germany, Austria and other countries willing to help the people from Syria, refer to this problem as a "Refugee Crisis" (as it should be because of its nature), the countries that are sceptical towards the acceptance policy, call this issue as a "Migrant Crisis". By doing so, the combination of those words gives a new meaning to the situation, as if the problem was caused by the large number of the migrants. This way the words try to shift the point of view and showing people migrating from Syria as the main problem and cause of the crisis, when in reality those people are refugees, whose lives are at stake and have the legal right to seek asylum in other countries because of the threat.

To top it all, the various far-right movements took place in various European countries, who oppose the refugee acceptance policy and perceive the whole situation as a threat to the European Christian identity. What makes it all worse, is the fact that their popularity was fuelled by series ofsome major events. First of them being the Paris attacks of 2015 organised by ISIS that killed around 130 people and wounded hundreds; the Nice attack of 2016 that killed 84 people during the Bastille Day;22 March Bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station that killed over 32 people ; as well as the infamous incident that took place in Cologne, Germany on the 2016 New Years' Eve, that resulted in more than 1000 reports of sexual assault, rape and theft. According to the reports of witnesses and victims, all the suspects were refugees of the "Arab" background. Those incidents created a bigger hatred and fear towards the refugees and migrants from the Middle Eastern countries to the point that it led towards the increase in Islamophobia and Xenophobia in European countries by creating the association of the word "refugee" to the word "terrorist" suspects who were entering the EU countries for the sole purpose of creating a serious threat for the lives of locals and the European identity itself. This forced various countries, including Germany, to change their migration policy to the point that it would be very difficult for the migrants to get inside the country, while at the same time, easy for them to be deported in case of committing a crime. Of course all those assumptions are exaggerated.

The final reason as to why the refugee crisis is such a difficult issue for the EU to cope with, lies in the political sensitivity of this problem. The EU's failure to get a grip on the problem is far grave, as the inflow of migrants is very likely to continue being the actual and hot-debated topic for, at least, another couple of years. This idea is supported by the fact that, despite all the diplomatic efforts, the Syrian civil war is not likely to finish yet. Additionally, as mentioned in the beginning, the Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkeywill soon be unable to receive the Syrian refugees just because the sheer number of them is very high. All three of them combined are sheltering around 7 million of refugees. This means that the number of people crossing the Mediterranean might as well double the rate of migration. This situation creates another challenge – the increase of illegal migration and smuggling, which became a very good source of income for some people because of the crisis. Even though it is possible to reduce (if not eradicate) the issue regarding smugglers, to do so the countries must first of all loosen the restraints on the migration policies so that the people would be able to enter the country normally, without the need of illegal transportation that might pose a very serious risk to their lives. However, as said beforehand, the European countries do not have a one single policy, not to mention the problem of unity. Despite the fact that all of them see the clear problem that affects all of them, they try to find solution through imposing policies on the domestic level, instead of creating a single united policy that would benefit the EU altogether.

By presenting the events that occurred during the European Refugee Crisis (as well as the ones that took place before 2015), it becomes clear that the European countries' political views regarding this issue are different. If one was to characterize the policies of the countries, then it would be possible to say that during this crisis the European countries were divided in the following categories: 1. the ones that were seeking solution based on the liberal values; and 2. the ones that were having a truly realistic approach towards this problem. From this perspective it is safe to assume that the countries that held the welcoming policy towards the refugees, were focusing more on solving the case through the use of cooperation, while countries against accepting asylum seeker from Syria were focused on the idea of self-preservation. That very split proved to be one of the reasons the crisis had a very disproportionate response. Because of acting out of self-interest, countries like Hungary and England had very negative and harsh attitude towards the crisis and searched for possible ways of avoiding or minimizing the 'unnecessary responsibility' of accepting the victims of the Syrian war and providing refuge for the people who required it. For them the domestic goals were of much higher priority than the ones that concerned the EU in general. At the same time, countries such as Sweden, Germany and Austria were trying to solve the problem through cooperation, in order to effectively combat the common peril. For them it was more important to complete their moral obligation and provide the necessary aid to refugees, rather than searching for a ways to avoid the moral and legal duty. Even if their united decision would impact the domestic policy negatively, the main goal for them was to try and find an effective solution by increasing the policymaking level from domestic to international one.

To summarize the crisis from the liberalistic point of view, Europe indeed was ill-prepared for the situation, even though it might have been possible to reduce the impact of it, if the response towards that situation was not delayed, but rather given a proper reaction the moment the first signs of a crisis were taking place. Apart from that there was no united response for the situation even in 2015, which ultimately divided the European countries into 2 categories: those willing to accept refugees and those were considering them as a threat. As a result this event showed that the interests of the European countries became very different: there were countries that were putting the fate of the EU as their main priority, while others were focusing on the self-interest and preservation. The fact that Hungary closed its borders, while other European countries simply refused to accept them, showed that it was not possible for the European countries to reach an agreement over this topic. Not only that, but many of them started criticising Germany over its open border policy and openly accused it on trying to enforce its ideas upon the fellow members of the EU. Furthermore the horrible precedents that took place in France, Belgium and Germany, forced even the liberal countries such as Germany and Sweden to change their migration policy towards stricter measures.At this point it was the clash of liberal values against the issue of security, in which countries prioritised at the issue of their security. Lastly, because of the ongoing Syrian war, the crisis still remains unsolved and the only other option left for EU is to endure the situation through long-term collaboration. Only cooperation can help them to withstand the refugee crisis, without sacrificing the organization itself.