Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Europe's Immigration Crisis

Over the past several weeks, migration to the European Union has been a topic dominating headlines as the countries of the eurozone remain bitterly divided over the next course of action. Due to unprecedented humanitarian crises in the Middle East and Africa, it is no surprise that Europe is facing an influx of refugees that they simply do not have the bandwidth to manage. However, as the death toll from failed migration attempts rises and E.U. members continue to bicker and avoid taking action, the crisis is going to worsen substantially. From a humanitarian standpoint, finding a solution that benefits these refugees is desired, but from a political standpoint, it is imperative.

The pace at which refugees are coming to European shores is indeed frightening--Germany claims it will be processing up to 800,000 this year, or four times the number it processed in 2014. This is a long-anticipated overspill from the Syrian civil war: countries that have supported refugees for years such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, are now finding themselves at capacity and unable to provide safety and shelter to any more refugees (as my colleague Vicky has written, the conditions in these refugee camps are themselves not at all desirable or livable). Europe should have seen this coming for quite some time, but somehow, here we are, with the continent seemingly completely caught off guard.

Migrants on the Mediterranean 

And as record numbers of refugees come to Europe, they are dying in record numbers. The death toll is in the thousands so far this year, with specific events capturing the world's attention with their horrific details (ships sinking, suffocated bodies found in trucks, the list goes on...) This is now a very serious crisis that will make the E.U. look inhumane and embarrass them until steps are reached to resolve it.

What makes the situation even more dire is the fact that it is the countries with the most unstable economies and the weakest governments that bear the brunt of this influx. It is estimated that Greece has already taken in roughly 160,000 this year; meanwhile, this summer the country narrowly avoided bankruptcy by securing a last-minute bailout deal, just before Prime Minister Tsipras of the once-popular Syriza party resigned and called for new elections. Greece's own population remains destitute, with a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate (around 50 percent for young adults), unprecedented homelessness and a dearth of government services. In Italy, itself a struggling economy, there has been the arrival of more than 83,000 migrants.

Instead of support these countries inundated with refugees and simply unable to support their domestic populations as well as the newcomers, many European countries have simply turned their back in defiance. In the meantime, frightening anti-immigration nationalist political parties, predominantly in the nordic states and parts of Eastern Europe, are growing in popularity--a serious threat to the E.U.'s political stability. Germany has stepped up, as they are wont to do in these types of situations, bravely announcing that they will offer asylum to all refugees who make it to their borders. However, in response, Hungary shut down its train stations earlier this week, barring migrants from leaving without "proper paperwork."

Migrants waiting for a train in Hungary. Courtesy of Getty Images

The situation is rapidly turning into a nightmare, and something needs to be done about it. Germany has proposed a quota system that is spread out among states based on their ability to accommodate, but this has been met with a fierce backlash from anti-immigration countries who feel that being in the Schengen region does not require them to welcome anyone they don't want across their borders. The E.U. executives claim to have a new proposal ready to present later this week, but it is unlikely that any compromise will be agreed upon by the stanch opponents. The longer it takes to reach a deal, however, the worse the situation will be for not just Germany, Italy, and Greece, but for the entire E.U., and a very serious threat to the concept of the Schengen region.

But besides developing framework on how to handle sudden influxes in refugees (which should have been developed a decade ago, at least), the E.U. must begin to commit to better supporting the countries where these refugees are coming from. Humanitarian assistance and financial support would go a long way in Jordan, Lebanon, and other similarly situated countries. And with even slightly better living conditions and increased capacity for accommodation there, the number of refugees crossing into Europe each year might decrease to a more sustainable level. It is incumbent upon the members of the E.U. to work towards this type of collaboration.