Europe’s Refugee Dilemma

The plight of Syrian refugees evokes sympathy from Western onlookers, but the refugee crisis is less about the refugees’ crisis, and more about the dilemma Europe faces in dealing with them. It would have been politically (or ethically, based on your disposition) infeasible to keep the hundreds of thousands of beleaguered migrants stopped indefinitely at the Hungarian border. It was up to Germany, as the destination of most of the refugees, to decide how to resolve the issue.

Angela Merkel’s grand welcome to the fleeing refugees, although moving, will have huge consequences for Germany and Europe as a whole. By offering residence to any refugees to arrive at its border, Germany encouraged hundreds of thousands more people, who had until then decided to stay, to join the exodus.

Merkel’s announcement prompted a surge of Iraqis to also travel to Europe. Instead of applying for asylum from the region they are trying to leave, as people are normally required to do, waves of migrants are arriving at the border of Germany expecting to be granted residence.

Unfortunately for Europe’s largest economy, 1.5 million asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are estimated to enter Germany before the end of the year. Short of mass deportations on a tremendous scale, there is nothing for the EU to do other than bear the burden until peace returns to the Middle East, and the migrants can safely return. Even then, however, returning people to their homes would not be likely, considering that most refused to register at the EU point of entry in either Greece or Italy.

The EU ruled that asylum seekers are to be distributed evenly among other member states with binding quotas. Many countries, however, are resisting the quotas, understanding that a large influx of poverty-stricken people is not good for national stability, especially with the current opposition movement to immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has preached caution in admitting refugees into Great Britain. Cameron said that Britain “would be overwhelmed” if it opened its doors to every refugee. By opposing the EU’s decree, countries are taking steps to avoid repeating Merkel’s mistake, and are trying to discourage prospective migrants from making the journey to Europe without being accepted beforehand.

European nations are understandably hesitant to take a massive number of people into their country from populations that often violently oppose the Western values of tolerance, human rights, equality, and democracy. In Germany, some refugee communities have already begun clashing with German citizens.

Violence has even broken out among the refugees themselves, leading a German police chief to insist that Christian refugees be housed separately from Muslim refugees. Two separate fights broke out between Muslim and Christian refugees that left 14 people injured. During one instance, a fight broke out among 200 Syrian and Afghan refugees at a shelter in Leipzig in which migrants fought “wielding table legs and slats.” The German police will be under enormous pressure as the number of refugees entering the country continues to mount.

Another concern influencing countries such as Great Britain to refuse entry to the refugees, is the risk that some applicants are sympathetic to Islamic terrorist groups. The black market for Syrian passports is booming as people are trying to take advantage of an opportunity to get into Europe. Unfortunately, it leaves open the opportunity for Islamic militants to enter European nations with relative ease if they do not already qualify for asylum status.

There’s not much for Europe to do to alleviate this crisis. It’s too late to relocate the refugees to Syria’s neighbors, not that the other Middle Eastern countries would have accepted them. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain have refused to take a single refugee, citing the risk of terrorism. Although Turkey already has 1.8 million refugees, it declined to take in any of the migrants who made their way to Europe.

Europe has nothing left to do but welcome the people crossing the border, try to disperse them evenly so they disrupt as few communities as possible, and hope that peace will come soon in Syria—as unlikely as that may seem—to stem the flow of refugees.