Refugee crisis: Facts, figures and questions [opinion]

Europe is undergoing a major transformation process, fueled, inter alia by the current refugee crisis. At first, many EU leaders tried to look the other way, however the vast number of people that made their way across the Mediterranean towards Europe during the past year could not be overlooked. As Europe’s leaders are now trying to cope with the influx and the resettlement of an increasing number of refugees and migrants, many questions arise that are far difficult to fathom.
Let’s take a minute to appreciate the facts:

– The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 700,000 migrants have reached Europe by boat so far this year, but exact numbers are unclear as some may have passed through borders undetected.

Over half a million asylum applications have been filed so far according to EU statistics agency, Eurostat.

– Germany continues to be the most popular destination for asylum seekers followed by Hungary.

– The conflict in Syria continues to be the biggest driver of the refugee and migration wave. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.

– Greece, Italy and Hungary have suffered a severe burden as refugees have been arriving by boat and overland. More than half a million migrants have reached the Greek territory so far this year.

3,210 refugees have either died or gone missing making the journey to Europe, according to UNHCR.

Just reading the numbers makes it very difficult to understand the magnitude of the refugee crisis. Foreign media networks say this is “the most serious refugee crisis since World War II”. The European Union is trying to come up with arguable solutions, – unsuccessfully so far – amid fears of a political, financial and social turmoil. There’s been a major delay in Europe’s response to the situation, which has made things worse. European Council President Tusk clearly said the crisis threatened to transform the EU and destroy key European principles such as border-free travel between Schengen zone countries. “This challenge has the potential to cause tectonic changes in the European political landscape,” he said. “These are not changes for the better.”
Amid concerns on whether Europe will rise to the challenge, predictions are difficult to be made and questions remain:

– If Europe is just beginning to feel the impact of the refugee-migrant crisis, how will the lives of European citizens be affected in the future?

– Even if EU leaders agree on a common strategy, how feasible is it for such a large number of refugees to be integrated?

– European Union countries, especially in the Mediterranean region are confronted with major financial challenges. Greece is struggling to meet with its creditors’ demands, while many Europeans are unemployed and wary of foreign workers. How would that affect social cohesion?

–  Human Rights organizations express concerns about “the systematic violation of human rights of refugees and migrants”. With far right movements present across Europe, is there a way to prevent violence, social discrimination and xenophobia?

– Will these people ever be able to return to their homeland?

– Last but not least: With this vast resettlement of population currently underway, what is really at stake? Our lives, our future or our humanity?|

Photo: © UNHCR/Melissa Fleming
(Selwa and her family left war torn Syria  and they made it to Lesbos, Greece.)