Europe's Struggle With Refugees

Sep 5, 2015 By Deepa Gopal
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Their journey begins across the perilous waters of the Mediterranean, on rickety boats and unstable rafts. For some, the sea becomes their graveyard. The lucky ones who reach Greece face a long trek before reaching the borders of Hungary.

Refugees from the Middle East - specifically Syria, have been pouring into Europe. Hungary has become the gateway to Europe for them, as they head towards Austria and Germany.

Recently, Hungarian authorities tried to stop a train full of Syrian refugees heading towards the Austrian border. They wanted to send the refugees to camps, where they could get food and supplies, while their papers were processed. The refugees, however, refused to get down from the train and many decided to start walking along the train tracks instead to Austria. This created an emergency situation, forcing Hungary to send buses to deliver the people to the Austrian border. 

Where Are They Coming From?

Every year, thousands of people risk their lives to flee from conflict and instability in Africa and the Middle East. According to UNHCR, a United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 300,000 migrants have crossed into Europe this year - 200,000 landing in Greece and the rest in Italy.

Migrants entering Italy begin their boat ride from Libya and Tunisia but come mostly from far-away Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan. South Sudan which became independent in 2011, has been struggling with internal fighting between local tribes. 

Recently, however, the biggest refugee influx is from Syria. Nearly four million people (one-fifth of Syria's population) have left the country since the civil war began in 2011. To make matters worse, the spread of ISIS terrorists (read here) in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan has further devastated the region and displaced more people.

Many Syrian refugees settle in camps in neighboring countries like Turkey - but these camps are crowded and lack sufficient funding. Seeing little future for their families, the migrants begin their dangerous journey to Europe through Greece and Hungary. 

A Problem For Europe

Unfortunately, the European Union (EU) does not have a clear policy on dealing with people coming in droves to their lands. It is difficult to send the boats back to where they came from, safely.

Last year after a string of boat tragedies, EU officials had made a controversial decision to scale back search and rescue efforts of illegal immigrants lost at sea. However, that decision has not been popular with the people. For authorities, it is not an easy task. Passengers must be brought ashore and properly processed. 

Some favored destinations for the illegal immigrants are Austria, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. A recent announcement by Germany that it is willing to accept more refugees has led to a sudden increase in migrants crossing into Hungary - from 2,000 to 3,000 a day! But there is also a fear in many European countries that these immigrants would take away jobs and create social issues. Hungary's government is erecting a barbed wire fence on its border with Serbia to prevent illegal crossings.

While Europe struggles to accommodate the swell of refugees, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab states which are much closer to the conflict areas, have refused to take in any.