So what exactly is the scope of the European Refugee Crisis?

In 2015, the number of refugees in Europe increased significantly, causing the so called “refugee crisis”. As the number of displaced people grows, the situation is becoming more and more worrying and a controversial debate about possible responses to the crisis has appeared.

Populist sentiments arose throughout Europe as a response to the increasing number of refugees. Some political parties have used the uncertainty and insecurity that is often associated with an increasing number of refugees during their national election campaigns, promising to “save” their citizens from the “refugee invasion”.

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Refugees on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. Source: Mstyslav Chernov

Since 2015, the “refugee crisis in Europe” has been one of the main news topics weekly, if not daily. The news stories seem worrying. The number of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Italy and from the Middle East to Greece is rapidly growing and these countries lack the capacity to deal with an increasing refugee population.

From the media and the statements from politicians it seems like the situation is incredibly worrying. However, do all Europeans realise the actual scope of the refugee crisis and how much Europe itself is actually affected?

European Refugee Crisis in Numbers

At the end of 2016, one in every 113 people in the world was a refugee, the total number of forcibly displaced people was 65.6 million, 22.5 of which were refugees under UNHCR mandate or registered by UNWRA. However, most of the forcibly displaced individuals reside not in Europe, but in much poorer developing countries with much lower capacity to accommodate all those in need.

In 2015 and 2016, 2.5 million people applied for asylum in one of the European Union countries. While these numbers seem rather high, it is important to keep in mind that these are the total numbers of all 28 Member States and that only slightly more than half of the asylum seekers received a positive answer. At the same time, in Turkey alone there are more than 3.7 million registered refugees residing.

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The World’s Top 10 Refugee Host Countries. Source: Amnesty International

So why would European countries feel that they are facing a crisis? The number of asylum seekers is not equally distributed throughout the member states. Such countries as Italy and Greece receive a disproportionately large number of asylum seekers. While the EU as a whole may have enough resources to ensure that refugees have access to their rights and that their basic needs are satisfied, the large concentration of refugees in only a few countries, as well as the inability of the EU to allocate their resources efficiently, results in problematic consequences.

Possible solutions for the “refugee crisis”

The refugees and asylum seekers are arriving to Europe by reaching such countries as Italy or Greece. Often the problems which these countries face due to a large number of refugees are seen as their own. According to Dublin regulation, the requests of asylum seekers should be dealt with by the authorities of the country of their first arrival to the EU. This leaves the countries with large numbers of refugees to deal with all the costs alone, and is irresponsible.

The situation that the EU faces considering the increased migration requires a new, pan-European approach. Responsibility sharing could help the EU to ensure the refugees and asylum seekers are provided with the assistance they need.

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Solidarity march with immigrants & refugees, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Source: Fibonacci Blue

It is also important to ensure that this “crisis” is dealt with in the right manner. A number of issues often arise from the fact that forced displacement is treated as a humanitarian emergency.

If the displacement is seen as something we could have not prevented and as requiring immediate fast response in only the short-term, the situation will not improve. Displacement, as well as a number of other situations which are perceived as humanitarian emergencies, is a result of structural problems. These problems appear over time and also should be treated in a right way taking into account not only short-term solutions, but also adopting a long-term strategy.

Displacement itself should not be seen as a “crisis”, but should be approached as the natural consequence of a larger structural problem. In order to ensure that the situation improves and the EU does not face a “crisis” in such a scale as the developing countries do, it is important to ensure that displacement, as well as causes, are targeted by long-term elaborate projects and that effective responsibility-sharing mechanisms are adopted.

This blog was written by Radvile Bankauskaite, an intern with the Conflict and Fragility Unit. Contact Radvile on LinkedIn.

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