Europe is currently facing the biggest refugee crisis in recent history. In 2015, over 1.2 million first time asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East applied to settle in Europe – more than double the amount in 2014. And while European countries initially adopted an open door policy to accommodate the influx of asylum seekers, many nations have since changed their minds.    

On 28 January 2016, Sweden announced that it would reject up to 80 000 people who had applied for asylum, and as many as 40 000 refugees could be forced to leave. Finland followed suit shortly after, declaring that it would expel 20 000 out of the 32 000 asylum seekers it had received. Victor Harju, the spokesperson for Anders Ygeman, Minister of Home Affairs of Sweden, explained that this decision was based on the fact that “you can seek asylum in Europe but there are a lot of safe countries where you won’t be troubled by war and persecution, so you don’t necessarily have to end up in Sweden.”

But are there really that many other countries an asylum seeker can go to? To begin with, there were only a few countries who opened up their arms to the migrants. Now, many of them are trying to back away. Germany, which has received 1.1 million asylum seekers within the past year, is now dealing with Austrian pressure to put a quota on the amount of refugees it will take. Some refugees are even willingly leaving Germany due to the severe overcrowding and lack of food in refugee camps. Other countries such as Greece, Poland, France, and the UK either do not have the economic capability to take in these refugees, or are reluctant to assist in dealing with this crisis. Simply put, there is nowhere else in Europe that can accept these evicted refugees. The reality is, the only place for refugees to go is back to the war-ridden countries of the Middle East.

While Sweden’s desire to expel refugees is under heavy criticism, it puts pressure on other world nations to face the issue at hand. On 28 February 2016, Germany threatened to close down its borders to refugees, in an attempt to pressure other European nations into doing more to help. Sweden, Germany, and Finland have had enough to deal with in the past year, and it’s time for other countries to step into their shoes.

The European Union and Turkey have already agreed to the framework of a deal in which Turkey proposed to resettle one Syrian refugee in Europe for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands. Essentially, all refugees currently waiting on the shores of Europe will be deported to Turkey, regardless of eligibility for asylum. The European Union will then take refugees back, after they stabilize and set up proper screening processes for asylum seekers. Human rights groups say returning asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey would be illegal, but the EU is desperate to reduce the flow of migrants and refugees coming to Europe. However, Turkey is already accepting Syrian refugees of its own, and the increased burden from other European nations threatens to overwhelm Turkey’s limited capacity for dealing with refugees.

It’s not just Turkey either. Europe’s unwillingness to open their doors means that neighbouring countries, like Jordan and Lebanon, have also been overwhelmed with refugees. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) predicts that nearly 3 million refugees arrived last year, more than twice the amount in Europe. While Lebanon and Jordan have dealt with the influx of refugees extremely well, both countries are beginning to suffer from overcrowding and a lack of basic necessities, like food and water. Despite UN support, both Jordan and Lebanon have faced an economic crisis within the past year, and yet they have kept their borders open, allowing refugees to find a safe place to stay.

This shows that basically all of Europe has the capability to help. Instead of being isolated from the Middle East, the European Union should be motivated to find a solution.

The EU needs to create and develop a smooth and efficient checking process to allow refugees to enter Europe as quickly as possible. This would also address many nations’ concerns about the security issues that incoming asylum seekers can bring. To aid with overcrowding, the EU could also design a relocation process in which refugees could move to other countries who have the capability to hold these refugees, and deal with countries who still refuse to take them in. Furthermore, Europe can also help the UNHCR fund refugee camps which would help countries provide food, water, and proper living conditions for these refugees.

Momentary relief, whether it is Germany or Turkey, can possibly lead to a greater refugee crisis in the future. While Germany, Sweden, and Finland have weathered the storm for Europe, there are 25 other nations who can also contribute to the solution. The entire union must share the burden equally if Europe wants to create a long-term plan to settle these asylum seekers.

Refugee Crisis (Colour)

Illustration: Joy Wang