The refugee crisis is old news by now, although the story develops more every day. Already more than nineteen million people have been been forced to leave their country because of war, persecution, or oppression, and it’s estimated that everyday, 42,500 more join them. While Syria is the largest driver of this crisis (nearly a fifth of the country’s population has already fled), Syrians only make up about 34% of refugees. Older conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia have displaced 2.59 million and 1.1 million people respectively, and dictatorial regimes in countries like Eritrea and Myanmar continue to contribute, among many others (Taub).
Not all, but a great deal of these refugees chose to take the newly opened route to Europe in order to escape. The journey is incredibly dangerous, particularly during the trip across the Mediterranean sea. Most refugees can only salvage defunct and dangerous boats or rafts, which often capsize or simply break apart during the journey. The danger of this was made worse when the United Kingdom cut funding for the Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue last fall, causing the Italian government to end the operation in November (Taub). It’s been replaced by a highly inferior program funded by the European Union, with no search-and-rescue mission, and it’s been estimated that over 2,500 people have died while crossing the sea this summer alone as a result. And this is not an accident. This is European policy meant to keep out refugees.
The reason we’re just starting to hear about all these refugees now is that for years, the European Union paid Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s government to intercept and redirect migrants who were heading to Europe (Carr). Until 2011 when Gadhafi was ousted, his regime kept refugees out of sight and out of mind, the logic being that as long as they were actually arriving in European countries, those European countries wouldn’t have to deal with them.
However, now these refugees are in Europe, and Europe is not handling it well. Most countries are trying to discourage or outright block refugees from entering. Hungary has recently built an razor-wire fence across its border with Serbia, and announced new laws that will make it a crime to damage or cross it (Henley). Hungary has also shut down train service to Germany in an effort to discourage refugees from using their country as a stepping stone to what is currently the only morally responsible nation in Europe, leaving thousands of refugee families stranded at Hungarian train stations. And now Austria has introduced checks along its borders to search for refugees trying to be smuggled in (Elgot). All of these efforts have been criticized as violating the European Union’s open border policy.
So where are all of these refugees going? As right now, many are ending up in so-called “camps” throughout Greece and Italy. The results have been disastrous. As Stathis Kyroussis from Doctors without Borders describes: “I have worked in many refugee camps before, in Yemen, Malawi, and Angola. But here on the island of Kos, this is the first time in my life that I have seen people so totally abandoned” (Medecin Sans Frontieres). The United States and the European Union have each donated a fair amount of money toward containing this crisis, but it still only comes to about half of what the United Nations estimates will be needed (Taub). This means that people continue to live in appalling conditions within these camps (Medecin Sans Frontieres).
The thing is, the way the European Union is supposed to work, is for the burden of refugees to be distributed equally. If a huge amount of refugees suddenly showed up in, say, Arizona, the United States wouldn’t leave that one state to fend for itself in trying to provide for them. Similarly, the EU should be working together to handle this crisis. Instead, they’re trying to push it off on each other. The United Kingdom wants France to stop sending it its refugees, just like France wants to stop receiving refugees from Italy. Italy, like Greece, wants the rest of Europe to take its refugees (Taub).
These rich Western countries (the U.S. included, because we’ve stayed way to silent, honestly) are trying to pretend that they don’t need to act, but that can’t last. The crisis is already upon us. We have the money and the means, all we have to do is get over this upswing of right-wing, nationalist fear, and realize that these are fellow human beings in need, with so much to contribute to our society. Let them in, and let them prosper and help our countries prosper. If we don’t, their blood is on our hands.
Carr, Matthew. “How Libya Kept Migrants Our of EU–At Any Cost.” The Week. The Week Ltd., 5 April, 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Elgot, Jessica. “Austria Defends Border Checks Amid Migration Crisis.” The Guardian. Guardian New and Media Limited, 31 Aug., 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
“Greece: No Welcome for Migrants and refugees landing in Greek Dodecanese Islands.” Medecins Sans Frontieres. Medecins Sans Frontieres, 18 June, 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Henley, Jon. “Hungary Closes Serbian Border Crossing as Refugees Make for Austria on Foot.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 4 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
UNHCR. “Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2014.” The UN Refugee Academy, 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.
Taub, Amanda. “Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Explained.” Vox. Vox Media, 5 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.