Syria has been torn by a devastating war since 2011, but it is only with the massive influx of refugees coming to Europe en mass that the Old Continent has awakened the seriousness and horrors of this human tragedy.
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In light of the massive amount of refugees trying their luck to have a better life in its realm, and the risks they take to get there, the E.U. has decided to open its door to refugees on the run.
Next Wednesday, the European Commission will propose to the European Parliament to spread the flow of 160,000 refugees over the next two years. Germany (26.2% or 31 443 refugees), France (20%, or 24,031 refugees) and Spain (12.4% or 14 931 refugees) should host the largest proportion of refugees.
Things are evolving rapidly, but here is what they have committed to doing to address this crisis so far.
European Union: Greater aid and flexibility
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The Union has been struggling to come up with a coordinated, effective response to the refugee crisis, largely because such exodus is unprecedented in recent history.
According to Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, 340,000 migrants have been detected crossing the borders since January.
To address this wave of migrants, the European Union and its Member States have mobilized and are leading the international response. Over €3.9 billion ($4.37 billion) have been committed for relief and humanitarian assistance to Syrians in their country and to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.
As the dreadful living conditions in those camps are forcing more and more refugees to the gates of Europe, the European Commission is now proposing a scheme for relocating 160,000 refugees already within the EU. In May it had proposed a system of quotas for 40,000 refugees
The E.U. has also decided to put an end to the Dublin regulation, which establishes the principle that asylum seekers have to settle in the country where they are granted refugee status. This was particularly detrimental to Italy, which has constantly received a tremendous number of applications since the Syrian war.
Germany: the Iron country is also the most welcoming of refugees
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Germany, a favored destination for migrants from the Middle East, Africa or Afghanistan, and the fifth largest economy in the world and the largest in the E.U., is taking action to host 800,000 asylum seekers this year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel voted a €6 billion program for 2016 ($6.7 billion) to better manage the influx of immigrants and improve their integration. States and local governments will be given €3bn while federal government allocates €3bn extra to pay for benefits.
Behind this wave of generosity that crosses the country, the government has nonetheless begun to tighten rules to curb the influx of migrants from countries considered safe, starting with the Balkans. The chancellor has also urged EU partners to share the burden of the influx.
Additionally, nationalist protesters have been actively taking down the streets to voice their disapproval and anger at Germany’s helping hand. Over the weekend, around 10,000 members of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against Western Islamization) marched through Dresden, where the group was founded, to rally against refugees.
Sweden: Permanent Residency for all Syrian refugees
Chamdin, a refugee from Syria, lives in a home for child asylum seekers Malmö, Sweden; Image Source: AljazeeraUs
Sweden is the only country in the E.U. where the public is largely in favor of welcoming displace refugees according to a Eurostat study published by British newspaper The Independent: between 71 and 77 percent approve. It is also one of the preferred countries of residency for refugees.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has decided to accept all requests for permanent resettlement in his country from refugees, the first country in the E.U. to have made the pledge. The decision includes asylum seekers from Syria who have received temporary status on humanitarian grounds and new migrants.
Prior to this announcement, about half of Syrian asylum seekers received a favorable response for permanent residency requests.
Lofven has also requested the implementation of quotas across the Union and urged their their E.U. partners to provide additional efforts to cope with the migrant crisis.
France: a thousand refugees in the coming weeks
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French President Francois Hollande declared on Monday that France was ready to host 24,000 people in the next two years, acknowledging that: “it is the duty of France, where the right of asylum is an integral part of his soul, of his flesh.”
This is a dramatic increase from France’s initial commitment to host 9,000 refugees.
The president also said that in the name of the “principle of solidarity”, he was “ready to welcome several hundred or even a thousand” of newly arrived refugees in Germany. Probably unrealistic.
France is also mulling over the possibility of launching airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, saying that they proof that attacks have been planned from Syria against several countries, including the Hexagon.
Spain: a recent change of heart to help refugees
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Spain Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said his country should urgently accommodate 20,000 refugees over the next five years. The Conservative government refused at first to go beyond the initial commitment of 2,700 refugees, including advancing economic reasons.
Madrid, however, seemed to reverse that position, particularly following the mobilization of its citizens on social media, and in many cities governed by the left including Madrid and Barcelona.
The news that a duke from one of Spain’s wealthiest dynasties has been hosting two families of Syrian refugees at his estate for the past 18 months has been hailed throughout the country and is contributing to raising awareness to the situation.
Real Madrid, Spain’s iconic soccer club, has pledged to contribute $1.1 million to support refugees that are taken by Spain and is considering various initiatives to support the youngest refugees, including by making some of its infrastructure and sports goods available to the commission in charge of their resettlement.
UK: Opening it’s door but with conditions
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The United Kingdom has succumbed under the demands of his European partners, including Germany and France, and decided to take its share of refugees. Prime Minister David Cameron told the Parliament that Britain will take in up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next four and a half years.
For refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, Britain isn’t an option: Cameron has stated that Britain would welcome refugees from camps in the inflicted region only.
So far, Britain has granted asylum to 4,980 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, a number that pales in comparison to the efforts of Germany, Sweden or France.
progressive opposition Labour Party has criticized the government’s plan, arguing that it is ‘not enough’ and calling for more urgency to address this crisis.
Britain also chose not to participate in a quota system to support the refugees in the European Union, despite the urgings of the E.U. that it will result in a more equitable distribution. With David Cameron siting the fact that the UK is not a member of the Schengen Zone a zone covering the majority of Europe with no borders or passport control, and is therefore acting within its rights when turning down the request for a quota system to disperse refugees across the EU.
Greece: increased support requested to tackle the waves of migrants arriving by the sea
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The massive flow of refugees isn’t drying up in Greece, the closest country to Turkey, home to 2 million Syrian refugees, and a country stilled mired in an economic crisis.
According to Frontex, over 23 000 migrants arrived in Greece by sea two weeks ago, a 50 percent increase compared to the preceding week.
With little coordination and insufficient resources, Greece is nearing saturation. A Greek minister declared on Monday that the isle of Lesbos was “on the verge of an explosion”.
An estimated 17,000 refugees are currently on Lesbos, one fifth of the total population of the island, where their living conditions have been denounced by Amnesty International. The United Nations has requested their emergency evacuation.
The Greek authorities have made Sunday a series of emergency measures to accelerate the transfer of Athens and moved to facilitate their care. They also mobilized the military to coordinate the provision of food and the development of home sites.
Meanwhile, debt-laden Greece has requested additional funding from the E.U. to address the refugee crisis.
Hungary: resistance to refugees
Chaos on Hungarian railways; Image Source: Commondreams
Not everyone is doing its part to resolve the refugee crisis. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a conservative demagogue whose refusal to open its country to refugees has drawn both praise and criticism, renewed his defiance to quotas on Monday.
Meanwhile, Hungary is building a fence at the border with Serbia to keep out refugees. But the construction isn’t going fast enough to Orban’s liking: Defense minister, Hende Csaba, was forced to present his resignation on Monday as he was criticized for his incapacity to erect the wall in question in due time.
Ukraine and Slovakia: only Christians are welcome
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Both Ukraine and Slovakia haven’t been impacted by the arrivals of refugees in their countries, but the prospect of integrating people from different cultural background is largely unappealing to these conservative Christian nations.
Commentators report that both countries have witnessed a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment and that political leaders and the public are expressing their racist and xenophobic feelings shamelessly before the press or on social media.
Meanwhile, both have blocked mandatory quotas for refugees. Slovakia recently came under fire when Interior ministry spokesman Ivan Netik declared before the BBC that they will take in 200 Syrian refugees, but only if they are Christians.