Europe’s Burden

The refugee crisis is dividing the continent

by Emilie Oblivión

The crisis and question of refugees is on headlines and in the streets all over Europe. For months, pictures and video have saturated the media: refugees arriving on boats from Turkey to the Greek islands, Spain, and Italy, walking down highways and running across borders in Hungry and Austria, and more recently arriving in their hundreds by train to cheering crowds in German cities.

The people seeking asylum in Europe come from a range of sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern states, including Eritrea, Somalia, Angola, D.R. Congo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but by far the largest demographic are escaping war-ravaged Syria, where fighting continues between the government forces of Bashir al-Assad and a multiplicity of rebel forces—not all of them allied—including ISIS. The civil war in Syria has displaced half of the country’s population, causing over 4 million people to flee. This is the world’s biggest migration crisis since the Second World War.

The massive public outcry has been catalyzed by viral images of horror, such as Alan Kurdi, a Syrian 3 year-old, lying dead, face down on the Turkish shore after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Following this, E.U. governments have been shamed into action. In the U.K., David Cameron about-faced on his previous claim that receiving more refugees wouldn’t help the crisis. “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees,” he had said.

Less than a week later, he announced plans to take in an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Although it is worth noting that Britain is the largest donor of foreign aid in the region, accepting 20,000 refugees in five years is a pitiful and token gesture in comparison to Germany’s plan to receive at least 800,000 asylum seekers before the end of 2015.

Until recently accepting only unregistered refugees that had passed through other E.U. member states, Angela Merkel’s coalition government has now taken by far the most proactive and progressive stance among European nations. Merkel has urged other member states to take similar action: “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed”.

Both French President François Hollande and Merkel have signed a letter addressed to the E.U. Commission calling for a quota system to be established to determine how many refugees each country within the E.U. should responsible for housing. But the idea of countries taking on a quota of refugees has been met with opposition among …

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