Europe And The Syrian Refugee Crisis

This article can also be found at Tremr.

The Syrian conflict is nearing its five-year mark and, bluntly put, Europe’s response so far to the influx of migrants has been less than ideal.

Tensions between European nations have consequently run high. The high cost of hosting refugees has been disproportionately imposed on the “front-line nations” (primarily Greece, Italy and Hungary), while the UK has been the biggest donor by far, contributing more aid than all of the other EU nations combined. Altogether, however, Europe has spent only $15 billion on refugees – a miniscule sum considering the scale of the crisis.

Recently European leaders have developed an outline for a deal with Turkey, coined the “one-in-one-out” proposal. The proposal, which is expected to be sealed on March 17 or 18, aims to resettle one Syrian refugee in Europe for every one that gets returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the proposal as a “breakthrough,” in that it will supposedly discourage refugees from making the dangerous journey by sea from Turkey to Greece. The journey was the cause of 3,770 deaths in 2015, and remains the primary route through which refugees arrive in Europe.

The proposal could potentially decrease the dangerous businesses of human smuggling and trafficking, but there are numerous problems with it, in addition. Firstly, Turkey cannot legally grant asylum to the refugees it receives, as it is not able to provide all of the required amenities. Secondly, the general legality of the situation is cause for intense scrutiny: perhaps most clear-cut of all in this regard is the European Convention on Human Rights, which “explicitly prohibits the collective expulsion of foreigners.”

The aforementioned proposal could prove to be an effective one if, and only if, the EU intends to provide safer alternative routes to migrants attempting to cross into Europe, which it has not yet proposed. As the Washington Post states, “Stopping smugglers doesn’t address the root causes of the refugee crisis. It just displaces the burden to other countries.”

Determining what should be done in a situation such as this is tricky and far from clear-cut, but perhaps the rest of Europe should take note of how the UK and Germany have so far reacted. It is non-negotiable at this point that other EU nations pull their weight in donations as the UK has, as to not put uneven financial burden on certain countries.

Germany’s integration efforts have been commendable, and are another example of which other European nations should take note. Children aged three and up are required to be enrolled in kindergarten or childcare, as it is believed that integration begins at a very young age. Currently many refugees in the rest of Europe do not have access to work or education – more than half of refugee children are not enrolled in any type of schooling.

It is also necessary that the Dublin Regulation, an EU law that mandates that migrants must have their asylum applications processed in the EU countries they first enter, be replaced with guidelines that take into account the respective capacities of each member state for hosting refugees, as this too puts an unfair burden on front-line nations.

If the EU is, in actuality, interested in protecting migrants from the dangerous sea journey to Europe, one potential method is to fly them in from Turkey, which would end up being less costly and far less dangerous.

Furthermore, might it be prudent in the future for Europe to employ defensive troops in Syria with the help of surrounding Middle Eastern countries? Doing so could protect the “safe havens” in Syria in a non-offensive manner and could address the root of the problem: the immediate safety of the people ultimately seeking refuge.

All of this in mind, in reality Europe has been far less burdened than surrounding Middle Eastern countries in the refugee crisis. The vast majority of refugees have been hosted in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon that do not have the resources to accommodate them and are therefore bearing a bigger burden than Europe. Europe received 340,000 refugees in the first half of 2015 – constituting only 0.1% of the population. Lebanon, by contrast, took in 1.2 million Syrians in the same time period, which constituted a staggering 25% of the total population.

At the end of the day it is in Europe’s best interest to better handle its refugee situation. Refugees could provide growth in European economies where entrepreneurship is stalling. They could fill demographic gaps, as many countries are in need of both skilled and unskilled young workers alike. But at the most basic level, EU member countries need to consolidate laws surrounding the admittance of refugees and each nation needs to pull an appropriate amount of weight.

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