How the Global Refugee Crisis Has Transformed Europe

In recent years, even Scandinavian countries like Sweden—which have historically taken pride in providing a safe haven to the world’s huddled masses—are taking a step back to reassess policies on addressing the refugee crisis. Unlike new arrivals who were often previously awarded permanent residency, the vast majority of asylum-seekers who have arrived since November 2015 are only eligible for a temporary permit to stay in Sweden. With its tougher laws, Sweden now finds itself at the bottom of the European Union when it comes to welcoming refugees.
A banner in a town square in the French Alps reads “Welcome Refugees,” Chamonix, France, Oct. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Bertrand Combaldieu).
Part of the story behind this sea change is pure logistics. Like Canada, Sweden has long had a friendly immigration attitude because of its place on the map. Even with generous permits and benefits, limited numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers would make their way up to this cold, northern country, far away from the traditional hotspots of migration. That was true until the exodus of refugees from Syria’s civil war. Those who made their way to Europe often headed directly for Sweden, attracted by the generous permit policy and the presence of friends and relatives who had come before them. At its peak, so many refugees arrived in the southern city of Malmo that some were left to sleep outside. Even in generous Sweden, pragmatism quickly overtook idealism.


Integration is the Biggest Challenge for Europe When it Comes to the Refugee Crisis
In the aftermath of the surge in arrivals at the height of the crisis in 2015, the question on the minds of many in Europe these days is how to cope with the impact of asylum-seekers and migrants on their societies. The European Union’s response to the refugee crisis has been chaotic and divisive, characterized by squabbling over sharing responsibility, cascading border closures and finger-pointing. Many EU governments are focused on preventing arrivals and deflecting responsibility to neighboring countries. The possibility that some of those responsible for the horrific attacks in Paris in November 2015 entered the EU posing as refugees amid the influx into Greece and the Western Balkans has interjected fear of terrorism into the mix. Those who seek to keep refugees out with appeals to prejudice and panic are exploiting that anxiety. But with so many asylum-seekers and migrants already in Europe, the next big challenge will be integrating them into society.
How Germany is Handling the Refugee Crisis
While Europe as a whole struggles with integration, the first Islamist-inspired attacks by asylum-seekers on German soil in July 2016 trained an international spotlight on that country’s efforts to integrate more than a million new arrivals. In many sectors, the herculean task of integrating so many, so fast, is only just hitting home. Germany’s so-called integration law requires asylum-seekers to assimilate or face consequences. One of its more controversial measures forces newcomers to learn German and attend mandatory integration courses, or risk having their benefit payments cut. Meanwhile, the lengthy procedure for processing asylum-seekers’ claims leaves even those who are eager to integrate feeling isolated.
Ongoing EU Policy Gaps ExposedIn addition to the challenge of integration, the refugee crisis is also creating tensions between European countries, and within them. Since the reintroduction of border checks at the height of the crisis in 2015, border patrol within Europe’s free travel zone is increasingly a matter of national security rather than of EU coordination. As Lina Vosyliute, a researcher at the Center for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based think tank, explains, law-enforcement agents are under political pressure to deliver on border security. This can often lead to extreme policing that violates migrants’ rights. This kind of policing can also result in what refugee and migrant advocates call the “criminalization of solidarity.” That was the case with Benoit Ducos, the French mountain guide who now faces a five-year prison sentence for aiding a pregnant migrant along the French-Italian border.
The European Union’s Approach is Doomed to Fail
Although the political repercussions of the refugee crisis continue to roil European politics, the number of asylum-seekers and migrants has decreased dramatically since 2015. This is in part due to the European Agenda on Migration, an important framework for developing a comprehensive and multidimensional response to a complex and pressing challenge. However, the agenda addresses migration through a framework of deterrence, which is designed to prevent people from arriving in the EU in the first place, rather than to address the drivers of migration directly. This deterrent approach is by no means new, and it has already failed—not least in the emergence and escalation of the crisis that led to the agenda in the first place. While it has reduced the flow of migrants that reach Europe, it ignores the factors that cause them to leave their home countries.

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