From the Editor
Opinions / September 16, 2015
The Refugee Crisis in Europe and the Levant
Why are so many Syrians and other refugees dying as they make their way to Europe? A plane ticket from Lebanon to London costs around $600 Canadian, which you might think is too expensive for them, but refugees and migrants that cross the Mediterranean by boat do so at the tune of over $1400 Canadian. Why don’t they just fly? Many can easily access the airport and pay for the ticket, but they’re stopped at check-in by the airline because of an EU law known as DIRECTIVE 2001/51/EC, which essentially states that if an airline transports a self-professed refugee without all proper documents to the EU, they must pay for their return ticket out of Europe.
But strangely, two lines down in the same directive, it says that the above doesn’t apply to refugees who invoke the Geneva Convention. What this does is transfer the responsibility to the airlines, who don’t want to lose money in an extremely tight business.
The other big problem that refugees are facing is the fact that they can’t apply for refugee status within EU embassies in Turkey, Lebanon, or anywhere else. It is for this reason they must risk their lives and spend thousands to enter the EU, to countries like Greece and Italy, so that they can apply within the Schengen area, or border-free zone of the EU.
For the last several years this has been a controversial subject for European citizens, and many are trying to find out how to best address the situation. In 2013 the Swiss people voted in referendum to restrict the conditions under which asylum seekers can apply, such as no longer allowing for military deserters. Greece, as many people know, has had their economy collapse, and now many people are claiming asylum in their country. It’s easy to understand why many Greeks are upset, as the country’s social services can barely help out their own citizens.
Another element is responsibility. Most European countries have small militaries and therefore reduced security. In addition, Italy and Spain are the two most common ports of entry for migrants, and also two of the shakiest economies in Europe.
As usual when it comes to EU situations, everyone is looking at Germany. While many asylum seekers enter through Greece, a lot of them will eventually make their way up to Germany, which is more economically prepared to handle them compared to other countries. In this year, Germany expects to have over 800,000 people apply. By comparison, Canada only brought in 13,500 claims registered in 2014.
We must also consider neighbouring countries to Syria, where refugee policy seems to vary wildly. On the high end of the spectrum, Turkey has accepted 1.9 million refugees, and Lebanon has accepted 1.1 million. This is profound, as Lebanon has a domestic population of 4.4 million and a land area one-third the size of Vancouver Island. Iraq, a country also experiencing problems with terrorism, accepted 250,000 and Jordan accepted 500,000.
However, many are pointing their fingers at the richer Gulf states, such as Oman, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have accepted zero. These countries are profoundly wealthy and share a similar cultural climate compared to Europe.
Refugees are the current dominating topic in European media at the moment. Though many are against the idea of refugees coming to their country, it seems that the majority support it, depending on which country you look at. Germany has shown to be particularly welcoming, with the German government announcing that they’ll take in almost a million people.
On September 9th, Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Union made an appeal for European states to accept a combined 160,000 refugees, though within hours of the announcement the UK, Ireland and Denmark promptly opted out of the proposal, which they are legally entitled to do.
When I lived in Berlin in 2013, it was very clear to me that the Germans take their history seriously. The people of Germany also had their cities and towns destroyed during WWII and went through a similar experience to what Syrians are now, and Germans sought refuge in neighbouring European nations and North America. With that in mind, many university students in Berlin and Munich are taking refugees into their own flats. Austrians in Vienna are doing the same, with hundreds of people waiting at Wien Hauptbahnhof to cheer for the coming refugees, offering them food, shoes and hugs.
But are these refugees, as well as migrants, simply looking to get on advanced welfare systems of the Germanic countries so that they don’t have to work? I can say definitively, but I don’t think people who risk their lives on a rickety boat and walk thousands of miles on bad shoes can exactly be called “lazy”.