Exchange to change February 2016 - Page 7

Since the summer of 2015, Europe has been experiencing a stark increase in the number of asylum requests. In Belgium for instance, the Immigration Office processed 35,476 asylum applications in 2015, compared to 17,213 applications in the preceding year. The sharp rise in asylum seekers followed the exceptionally large numbers of people arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. The so-called refugee crisis has been the topic of heated debates across Europe as images of boatloads of refugees arriving in Greece flooded social media. Exchange to Change spoke to two scholars to clarify the nature of the refugee crisis. Robin Vandevoordt is a sociologist and doctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp (OASeS and CeMIS), where he is writing his PhD on Syrian refugees. Geoff Gilbert is a professor of law in the School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. He has worked with the UNHCR on issues related to asylum seekers, refugees, and humanitarian and human rights law. To get the discussion started, Exchange to Change asked both scholars to reflect on the thoughtprovoking title of a recent article and blog post authored by Gilbert, which proposed that “Europe does not have a refugee crisis.” Gilbert was quick to emphasize that while he says there is not a European refugee crisis, that does not mean that there is no refugee crisis: “The reference to Europe not having a crisis is because what is going on in Europe is not a crisis for those European countries, it’s a crisis for the people who have had to flee. Undoubtedly, there is a crisis that is occurring in their own countries, which is forcing them to flee.” He added that the countries geographically adjacent to major sites of conflict—for example, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in the case of the Syrian conflict, Iran and Pakistan in the case of Afghanistan, and Niger in the case of Mali and Nigeria—are also experiencing a crisis, as the rapid influx of people fleeing violence puts significant pressure on local populations, stretching already meager resources to their breaking point. Europe, on the other hand, has received only a scant proportion of the total population of displaced people worldwide. Economically and infrastructurally, it is also one of the regions in the world with more-thanadequate resources to cope with the arrival of many destitute people seeking protection. The 28 EU member countries are hosting on average 2.1 refugees per 1,000 citiz ens. Compare this to Lebanon—where, according to UNHCR figures, 1 out of every 4 inhabitants is a Syrian displaced by the current conflict— and it is hard to argue with Gilbert’s blunt assessment. In a similar vein, Vandevoordt suggested that “the current situation in Europe should be labelled as an asylum crisis, rather than a refugee crisis.” He also emphasized that the actual refugee crisis is located in the regions that people are fleeing. “However, what Belgium is facing is a policy crisis: the bureaucracy has difficulty keeping up with the actually in need of protection. In this sense, it influx of asylum-seekers, and struggles to fulfill seems reasonable enough to say that there would its duties, in particular the provision of ‘bed, bad, not have been as many recognized refugees in brood’ [loosely translated as ‘shelter, shower and Europe right now if the only way had been via bread’].” With the exception of Germany and to resettlement.” a certain extent Sweden, the response of the EU The reluctance of Europe to step up has only been countries has been perfunctory and disappointing. exacerbated by recent events. The November “Germany can put its hand up and say ‘we’re terror attacks in Paris have chilled the alreadyMore than 140,400 B giving a lot!’,” said Gilbert, “but most of Europe is tepid willingness of many countries to host Fig. 4 as refugees Number of refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) being incredibly mean-spirited in its response.” refugees, as governments confront a rising on a prima fa ing period, notably in th per capita | mid-2015backlash from groups of citizens who mistakenly Responses to the influx of refugees conflate the people fleeing terrorism and(69,400), violence Rwand zania with the perpetrators of such acts.cratic As antiRepublic of the C Similarly dismayed by the EU Ethiopia response, 469 immigrant sentiment builds, countries more 118,800 often Vandevoordt stated that “the way countries are estimated Sou Pakistan 322 tolerance are bending to fears known for their dealing with refugees is highly paradoxical, and in neighbouring countr whipped up by ideologues; in mid-December, over 216 this is engrained in the GenevaUganda Convention which 2015, mainly in Sudan ( 2,000 residents in a Dutch town clashed violently states that people can applyDem. for asylum once they Rep. 208 and Uganda with police in protest of plans to house asylum(17,500). O of Congo have entered the hosting state’s territory. This seekers locally. And both Germany and Sweden, ran Africa affected by 193 means that states cannot be heldChad responsible long seen as the most welcoming countries in – and thus source coun for refugees that are outside of their 186 Kenyaborders. Europe, have bowed to dwindling–public support Countries such as Australia and Canada take during the reporting 135 South Sudan and introduced measures to control the inflow full advantage of this loophole by performing African Republic (56,2 very strict border controls and hardly letting any 117 of refugees: Germany plans to sharply reduce Afghanistan Sudan (22,100). the numbers of refugees admitted, and Sweden refugees enter their territories.” Vandevoordt 102 Cameroon enacted strict border controls, reduced benefits, explained that it is still comparably easy to enter COntriButiOns limited length-of-stays, and tightened rules for the EU’s territory in illegal ways, (e.g. through 94 Turkey family reunification. Two main measures – ec the Balkan route and Mediterranean Sea), whilst Vandevoordt confirmed that similar measures there are only a few ways of legally claiming the – are used as a proxy to have been taken in Belgium. For example, letters right to asylum in Europe. Onemostly of the few ways in neighbouring countries, more than of host countries with have been distributed in Arabic, informing people in which this is possible, is through resettlement 97,000 Ukrainians werethat granted temporary prosharing. Using both m recognized refugees’ residency permits procedures, where refugees are selected from tection in theofRussian Federation. would become non-permanent intries time.appeared However, to be sho within the region of conflict. “However, most this policy measure has not even been published Excluding the Syrian Arab Republic and Ukraine, portion of this burden. the countries that strongly invest in resettlement, as a bill yet. With regard to this particular bill, to the eco vast majority According such as Canada, Australia and the Sweden, receive of newly displaced persons origiVandevoordt argued: “based on my own research far fewer refugees via illegal entry. Youfrom couldcountries in sub-Saharan Africa. The nated countries are all locate with Syrian refugees, limiting the length-of-stay say that European states needoutbreak to invest more Similarly, according to t of violence in Burundi combined with reof recognized refugees promises to be a bad in resettlement for various reasons. Most thepeople’s top 10 countries newed and ongoing fighting in the Central African policy measure as you are taking of away importantly, it is more humane as you prevent nations,ofwhile th and on thebuilding easternapart perspective future inoping their country refugees suffering the dangersRepublic, inherent inSouth Sudan, Nigeria, asylum. Why would someone invest in learning acountries industrialized of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have contravelling to the EU via the Mediterranean Sea. new language, educating himself and finding a job, Evaluating the impa tributed mosttosignificantly to the high level of new It will also become unnecessary for refugees it is of possible that you will lose pay huge sums of money to smugglers and hence Gross Domestic P ita(7)everything displacement during the when first half the year. you have built no longer feed the Purchasing Power Parit up just like that? industry of human with 469 ref Forata the greattop deal traffickers. The Fig. 5 Number of refugees per 1,000 dicates that of refugees, theEthiopia is downside or risk is inhabitants | mid-2015 temporariness country in ofsub-Sahara that if resettlement their exile reinforces and relative terms. Wit becomes the andGDP perpetuates only legal way of 209 Lebanon (PPP) per capita the traumas they applying for asylum, followed by Uganda ( Jordan 90 escaped from in and the asylum public of the Congo (20 the first place. And 51 Nauru procedure moves Figure 4]. (186) even from[see a costout of the European 31 Chad benefit perspective, Examining the num public sphere – 24 such a policy Turkey inhabitants changes the outside of the EU’s makes littlethe sense: borders – there is terion, impact of th 22 South Sudan recent research the risk that it will ible, with Jordan, Leba 19 Mauritania pointed out that turn into more of top five most countries. Wi in Belgium, a managerial or 17 Djibouti inhabitants, asylum seekers Lebanon r technical – rather 15 Sweden need approximately followed by Jordan wit than a political – 4 years to find their (51), C 15 Malta habitants, Nauru issue. Governments way into the labour may then decide to South Sudan (22) [see Fig market. If you take welcome refugees away their residence permit after 5 years, you’ll according to the needs of the hosting country, (5) That is the size of a refugee population compared to the Gross Domestic (7) Source for national populations: rather than responding to the numbers of refugees Product (Purchasing Power Parity) – the GDP (PPP) – per capita or to the Population Prospects: The 2015 Revis national population size. 7 (6) See http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49regin.htm for a list of countries included under each region. this analysis, the 2014 estimates have (8) Source for GDP (PPP): Internation Outlook Database, October 2015 (acc