The EU Refugee Crisis Won’t Be Solved By Fences And Walls

It’s a waterless flood, consisting of blood, bones, and dirty soles: refugees spilling into Europe from war-torn Middle Eastern and African nations.

Migrants from Libya, Syria, Somalia and more are traveling great distances, often risking their lives for the hope of asylum and in the EU — a refuge from their conflict-ridden homelands.

When refugees flee from destabilized lands, however, it can severely disrupt their destination, too.

The EU has experienced a massive influx of migrants in the last two years, seeing a 149% increase this year over the same time period in 2014. In fact, it’s the largest migration since World War II.

Nearly two thousand migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2015, so far, amid a surge of overcrowded, Europe-bound boats.

Accommodating refugees

Though EU-wide rules do exist with the Common European Asylum System, for the most part nation states operate separately, each with separate policies and accommodations.

[contextly_sidebar id=”XxNQohPNsxomO3Ky6jo23xF7ne4YsJlw”]Accommodating so many wayward refugees is difficult, but under EU rules, all asylum-seekers have the right to food, first aid, and shelter as applications process. Asylum is only granted to those that were officially persecuted — about 25 percent. Another 20 percent are offered protected statuses, and the remainder may be deported. 

It’s a good deal for some, but not for others, depending on the country. Germany is one of the most applicant-friendly nations, accepting the highest rate in Europe, and many applicants receive more money while being processed than they would working at home.

Such liberal policies, also held by Sweden, have their downsides, as these countries bear the brunt of the influx and struggle to feed and house hundreds of thousands.  

In other nations, refugees are crammed in overcrowded detention centers and camps, where they can become hard to track and vulnerable to abuse. But that’s if refugees can make it ashore in the first place: with the EU unprepared or unwilling to take on the responsibility, thousands have by been left to die at sea.  

Destabilization, fences and walls

Refugee overflow affects EU member states in different ways, depending on their circumstances. For example, Greece, a main entry point, is particularly ill-equipped due to its own financial crisis.

UK’s foreign minister Philip Hammond has voiced his concern that the current unsustainable influx would lower living standards for all Europeans. This is not an uncommon sentiment for citizens and politicians.

Though only a fraction of those displaced even seek out, let alone make it to Europe (80 percent of refugees go to developed countries instead), the millions more expected are creating fear and resentment in the EU, especially in countries where unemployment is already high.

Hungary, Bulgaria and Bolivia, facing an influx of migrants from their borders, are building literal fences and walls to keep them out, and by proxy, appease voters with firm stances on immigration.

Unfortunately, such measures likely won’t stop the flow, but divert it.

Other solutions

If walls won’t work, what will? What is the right balance between compassion and rigidity?

Obviously, the best case scenario would be to stop the crisis at its source: the instability and conflict in the developing countries from which refugees flee. Past western support and funding for the corrupt governments and companies there has not helped.

Besides this, it comes down to tolerance and management. Unfortunately, research shows that across the globe, Europeans have the most negative views on immigration, especially in coastal countries like Greece.

Some say management can be improved by spreading resources, funds, and refugees more fairly between nations, by enforcing a more cohesive asylum strategy that evens out the burden.

Data suggests Europe has the capacity to do so, and international law says they have the responsibility, too.
Robust search and rescue organizations, enhanced resettlement programs, family unification measures, and the tackling of people smuggling could be helpful as well. But all of this takes money, effort, time, empathy, and most importantly, EU-wide cooperation.

We measure success by the amount of understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert