Europe is facing a massive crisis. Millions of refugees from Middle-East and Africa are arriving at their borders, which has thrown them into a chaos and led to vociferous debates between European countries on the issue. The crisis has termed as Europe’s worst since World War 2. While Germany has been the most welcoming by committing to accept several refugees, France and Sweden have started in taking more people. However, eastern European countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria have refused to allow too many refugees citing their religion. More recently, even Australia has announced that it will take 12,000 refugees and provide $40 million to the UN for further assistance.
The number of refugees has increased dramatically over the past few years, but 2014 has seen a massive growth in terms of numbers. Let us look at the conflicts which have led to this situation.
Syrian Civil War
In 2011, there was an emergence of pro-democracy protests demanding President Bashar-al-Assad’s resignation. Following use of force by government forces, the protests turned ugly and developed into a civil war. The violence increased significantly and several rebel groups were formed, who fought continuously with the government forces. There have been serious allegations of human rights violations against the government forces, which include rape, torture and use of chemical weapons.
Over the years, the war turned into a sectarian one, with Assad’s Shia group pitched against a Sunni majority country. While Assad has been backed by Iran and Russia, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, the rebels have got support from US, UK, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The war has claimed more than 2,00,000 lives and the entry of Islamic State (IS) has made it worse. In 2014, IS made significant territorial gains in Iraq and <g data-gr-id="110">Syria,</g> and controls a significant area in Syria. The horrific crisis has led to the exodus of several <g data-gr-id="287">millions</g>, with almost four million people refugees, a majority of them moving to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, according to the United Nations (UN). The UN also mentioned that about eight million Syrians have been displaced internally and four out of five Syrians are living in poverty.
Emergence of Islamic State in Iraq
In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), better known as the Islamic State (IS), made large territorial gains at a breathtaking speed, defeating the Iraqi forces. The group rose out of Al-Qaeda Iraq and transformed itself into what it is today. It aims to build a global caliphate of Muslims which ranges from Spain to as far as China in the east. Currently, it occupies an area in Syria and Iraq which equals the size of UK.
Apart from capturing territory, IS has indulged in gruesome crimes such as beheading thousands of civilians and soldiers and mass rapes of women and girls being taken who are being taken as sex slaves and being sold to Arab countries. Their mass massacre of Yazidis, a religious <g data-gr-id="95">minority,</g> gained much attention; while many were beheaded; several others took refuge on a mountain. The horrific nature and activities of IS has led to millions of Iraqis leaving the country and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and to Europe.
A <g data-gr-id="88">US led</g> coalition supported by western countries have conducted air strikes which have had limited success but have failed to significantly stop the growth of IS. Apart from Syria and Iraq, conflicts in African countries such as Libya, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia have also displaced many of their citizens. The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabab in Somalia, both of them have pledged allegiance to the IS, have led many people to fled the country.
Response by European countries and their respective situations
Germany: Chancellor Angela Markel has led the European debate and response to the crisis and asked other EU countries to accept more refugees. About 8,00,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Germany this year alone. There are reports that Germany’s population and dependency ration is falling quite fast hence taking in more refugees might prove economically positive for them in the long run. However, there has been a rise in anti-immigration protests over the past couple of years.
Austria: Austria, which was earlier slightly hostile to the situation, suspended its random border checks after photographs of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach gained attention. Furthermore, it has agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that the decision was being revised following “intensive talks” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, he added that he “temporary” relaxation of border rules would have to end, and that “a measure of this type cannot be a solution” to the migrant crisis.
Hungary: Hungary, which has opposed taking in refugees as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that his country does not want to take in large numbers of Muslims, in defence of Hungary’s response to the surge in refugees trying to enter the country. “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country”, he said.
Hungary has finished construction of the first phase of a fence on its southern border with Serbia last month, which will be protected by the army and police officers to keep migrants out.
Sweden: After Germany, Sweden has been quite supportive and open to solve the crisis. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven <g data-gr-id="121">said</g> “Germany, Sweden and a few other countries can’t do this alone; all EU members have to help out”. He further added that “But this is not enough. The whole of Europe has to do more. There is <g data-gr-id="120">need</g> for a mandatory and permanent system for burden sharing so that all EU members should receive people who are fleeing for their lives.
Czech Republic: <g data-gr-id="124">Czech Republic</g> has also not been very welcoming to refugees. In a recent interview to radio “Frekvence 1, Czech President Miloš Zeman expressed his dissatisfaction with the mass inflow of migrants to Europe on several occasions and said: “The reception of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa to the territory of the Czech Republic brings with it three major risks – spread of infectious diseases, terrorism of the Islamic state and the creation of new ghettos.”
Denmark: In order to stop refugees from entering the country, Denmark has closed a motorway and rail links with Germany to prevent refugees heading north to Sweden.
Bulgaria: Given it’s the poorest country in the EU and thereby not wanting to strain their resources, Bulgaria has built a fence along its border with Turkey to prevent migrants from crossing through its territory in order to reach other EU countries. The fence is equipped with infrared cameras, motion sensors, wire and is monitored by the Bulgarian army.
Support for the refugees has poured in globally, with top football clubs from Europe also pitching in. Bayern Munich, the <g data-gr-id="106">top flight</g> German club will donate $1.11 million to tackle the crisis and also offer food to refugees. Furthermore, the European Club Association will support the current European refugee crisis by donating $1.12 for every ticket sold in September at Champions League and Europa League matches, according to a report by The Independent.