Below you will find a link to an article regarding the debate that is occurring world wide among governments as to whether they should continue to allow Syrian immigrants and refugees into their countries. You do not need to read the entire article. It is long. However, use it as a resource to answer the following questions:
1. Do you think the United States government should allow more Syrian immigrants and refugees into the country? Why or why not?
2. What is the difference between an immigrant, a migrant and a refugee?
3. If governments do not allow these people across their boarders even though they have already exited Syria and the war torn region, what should and can be done to help them? And where should they go now?
Please respond to at least one other student post.
Should Europe and the United States accept more refugees from the Middle East and Africa? Issue Date: February 2, 2016
Europe and the United States have a moral obligation to accept as many refugees as possible. People from the Middle East and Africa are fleeing war, persecution, and life-threatening danger, and neither curbing search- and-rescue missions nor increasing security measures to keep them out will stem the tide of people desperate enough to risk their lives to reach safety. Stereotyping refugees—many of whom are Muslim—as potential terrorists is inaccurate and callous, and refusing to welcome them undermines the values and ideals for which the European Union and the United States claim to stand.
Welcoming refugees from the Middle East and Africa poses a security threat to Europe and the United States and encourages more people to risk their lives in the hands of human smugglers. Assimilating hundreds of thousands of Muslims into predominantly Christian European countries is not a simple matter, and it would be irresponsible to ignore the social and economic problems that admitting large numbers of refugees will bring. In light of recent terrorist attacks in France and California, the European Union and the United States should proceed cautiously and with thorough consideration of security concerns.
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Syrian refugees land on the Greek island of Lesbos in September 2015.
On August 27, 2015, authorities discovered 71 bodies in a large, abandoned truck in Austria, most of whom were presumed to be Syrian refugees who had suffocated while trying to reach western Europe. The next day, a Libyan coast guard vessel discovered bodies off the coast of Libya after an overcrowded boat capsized, killing up to 200 refugees, many of whom were trapped in the boat’s hold. In early September, the drowned body of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, washed up on a Turkish beach. Alan’s brother and mother had also drowned attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece on a 15-foot rubber raft. These incidents focused international attention on a refugee crisis overwhelming Europe.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave his or her home because of war, persecution, or natural disaster. Over the past two years, the number of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa risking dangerous passage to Europe, often with the aid of criminal smugglers, has increased dramatically. According to a report the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued in June 2015, nearly 60 million people worldwide are currently displaced from their homes, the highest number yet recorded. Though many people are internally displaced within their own countries, many others flee their native lands seeking refuge—and better lives—in more stable, prosperous countries.
Refugees differ from economic migrants, who leave their homelands to seek better job opportunities, rather than to escape life-threatening danger. Though some of those attempting to enter Europe in recent years have been economic migrants, most come from countries plagued by ongoing conflicts or repressive regimes, such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, and South Sudan. Large numbers of refugees come from Syria, which has been wracked by civil war since 2011. Approximately 250,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Millions have been displaced within Syria, and millions more have fled the country.
While media often refer to the influx of people traveling from Africa and the Middle East to Europe simply as “migrants,” observers note that that important differences exist among migrants, immigrants, and refugees. The term “migrant,” the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Migrants states, refers to a person who moves to “a state of which he or she is not a national,” and includes “all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of an external compelling factor.” Migrants are also usually considered
to be people who journey, either within their own countries or abroad, without a specific destination, while immigrants are considered those who travel to a particular destination country to settle there.
Refugees, by contrast, are people who are forced to leave their homes because of external factors, such as war or oppression. This distinction, experts note, is crucial because establishing someone as a refugee entitles him or her to certain legal protections under international agreements, such as the U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, that economic migrants are not afforded. While some news organizations, such as Al Jazeera, have opted to primarily use the term “refugee” when discussing the current crisis, most use the term “migrant” to refer to all of the people currently attempting to enter Europe from the Middle East and Africa.
The paths refugees take to Europe are long, and include various routes by land and sea. People attempting to leave Syria or Iraq, for example, often travel north through Turkey before attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece—the Greek island of Kos is only about two miles off the Turkish coast—on small rafts that are barely seaworthy. Others travel south by land to Egypt, where they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. Still others continue by land northeast through Turkey, arriving in eastern Europe, which has led to bottlenecks in countries including Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, and Serbia, where refugees await entry to more prosperous western nations such as Austria and Germany.
Migrants from Africa often attempt to reach Europe by traveling across the Mediterranean from ports in Libya, a country that has been engulfed in turmoil since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammer el-Qaddafi in 2011. Human smugglers, who accept money to illegally transport refugees across borders, have taken advantage of the relative lawlessness within Libya to use the country as a departure point for their operations. Boats leaving Libya often land on the island nation of Malta, or on the southern tips of Greece or Italy. More than 600,000 people attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015.
These journeys are often treacherous. According to a 2014 report from the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group, the Mediterranean Sea is the world’s most dangerous border crossing. Boats with hundreds of migrants have been lost in rough waters, and people seeking asylum have suffocated in overly cramped conditions in
crowded ship holds. Despite these deadly perils, refugees are willing to risk their lives to escape the dire conditions in their home countries.
Many people fleeing war and other conflicts have settled in refugee camps in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Some have applied for asylum—the legal right to resettle in a foreign country—while others are simply hoping to wait out the violence engulfing their native lands and return home. Many others, frustrated with the overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions in the camps, eventually decide to press on to Europe.
Refugees who survive the arduous journey and safely reach European shores face additional challenges. The formal process of seeking asylum and resettling requires filling out an application with a host country—a complicated procedure—and then waiting in camps while these applications are processed. Processing can take years, and many applications are ultimately denied, at which time refugees can be forced to return to their countries of origin. Many migrants hope to reach northern European countries such as Sweden, where, Jeanne Park of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in September 2015, they can find “comparatively well-run asylum centers and generous resettlement policies.” However, Park noted, such European countries “cater to migrants who have the wherewithal to navigate entry -point states or obtain expensive travel documents that ensure safe air passage with the assistance of traffickers.” Many refugees arrive with little money, and often do not speak the local language. As a result, Park concluded, “these countries remain inaccessible to most migrants looking for work or international protection.”
Under both global and European Union (EU) laws, nations are prohibited from deporting refugees back to the countries from which they fled until their formal applications for asylum are completed, a process that can take months, or even years. “The EU has…made collective commitments not only as regards who will be afforded protection, but also their reception conditions while their claims for protection are being processed, and the relevant procedures,” a report by the International Rescue Committee, a group that provides services to refugees worldwide, explained in September 2015. “European states are thus obligated to protect refugees.” The report lamented, however, that “there is no effective system of practical cooperation [among states] and sharing of responsibility.”
The prevalence of Muslims among the current surge of refugees has prompted some resistance to their acceptance in Europe, which is predominantly Christian. Right-wing, anti-immigration political parties throughout the continent have argued that this influx of Muslim migrants will damage the cultural, religious, and social fiber of Europe. Leaders of these parties have accused Muslims of refusing to integrate into Western society, and warn that Islamic extremist terrorists may disguise themselves as refugees. Others have charged that the social isolation Muslim immigrants sometimes face after resettling in Europe can contribute to future radicalization.
Consequently, many Europeans have moved to stop the current wave of refugees from settling on the continent. Hungary, in particular, has strengthened border controls to keep them out, as well as detained many who are trying to travel through the country to reach other nations. Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban has cited Hungary’s oppression under the Islamic Ottoman Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries to justify his government’s unwillingness to welcome refugees, for fear that another Muslim takeover might occur. Critics have denounced such sentiments as Islamophobic and extreme.
Others, however, note that as militant groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attempt to recruit and radicalize Muslims throughout the world, concern about the influx of potential terrorists might not be wholly unfounded. Indeed, on November 13, 2015, terrorists affiliated with ISIS—some of whom were French and Belgian citizens—launched a coordinated series of brutal attacks on the public in Paris, killing 129 civilians and wounding hundreds. A Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers stoked fears that recent arrivals admitted to Europe had included terrorists, though authorities later announced that the passport had been fake, and offered little insight into the identity of the attacker. Most reports have indicated that the terrorists, while thought to have had contact with extremists based in Syria, were either European nationals or had unconfirmed origins.
The European Union has struggled to agree on and implement a consistent and comprehensive response to the refugee crisis. Critics charge that EU leaders have been overly focused on guarding their borders and not focused enough on saving lives. “We used to think of migration as a human security issue: protecting people and providing assistance,” Khalid Koser of the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, told the Council on Foreign Relations in September 2015. “Now we clearly perceive—or misperceive—migration as a national security issue. And the risk of securitizing migration is that you risk legitimizing extraordinary responses.” The highly publicized deaths of refugees in August and September 2015 galvanized European leaders to work toward a continent-wide plan to deal with the crisis. Some, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, have proposed a quota system requiring each nation to admit a certain number of refugees based on the size of its population and economy. In September, Germany pledged to take in 500,000 refugees per year.
European countries including Germany have also, however, increased their border security, which many say belies the spirit of unity and integration that undergirds the European Union, a governmental body formed to promote peace, economic development, and free movement throughout the continent. Indeed, some analysts worry that the refugee crisis will weaken the union. “How to deal with the human tragedy playing out on Europe’s southern beaches, in its major transportation hubs and along its internal borders is a question that goes to the very heart of the EU,” an editorial in Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, noted in September 2015. “[T]he EU lauds itself as an ‘area of freedom, security, and justice.’ But these days, all those lofty concepts are rapidly losing their meaning.”
Human rights groups have also urged the United States to do more to ease the crisis. On September 10, 2015, President Barack Obama (D) announced that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, a number that represented a dramatic increase from previous years but which many still deemed insufficient. In the four years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the United States has taken in 1,500 Syrian refugees.
Should Europe and the United States accept more refugees from the Middle East and Africa?
Supporters of accepting more refugees argue that Europe and the United States have a moral obligation to help people fleeing violence and chaos. Refugees seeking to escape terrorist groups like ISIS, they note, are not terrorists themselves. To cite security and economic concerns in the face of widespread death and suffering, they argue, is callous and inhumane. Wealthy nations in Europe, as well as the United States, can do much more to help, they argue, and no amount of border security or fence building will stop refugees desperate to find safety.
Opponents of accepting more refugees argue that Europe and the United States do not have the means or obligation to resettle hundreds of thousands of foreigners. Offering refugees assistance will only entice more of them to attempt the dangerous, illegal journey to Europe, they contend, and welcoming poor, Muslim migrants into predominantly Christian nations could cause social and economic problems, especially if they fail to assimilate. Some refugees, they add, might be terrorists, or potential terrorists.
Wars, Unrest Spur Massive Migration Wave
In 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that laid out a series of rights inherent to all people. Article 14 of the document stated, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The Convention on the Status of Refugees, adopted by the United Nations in 1951, expounded on this principle. While countries are not obligated under international law to grant permanent asylum to every refugee who applies, the convention stated, they are not allowed to send refugees back to their countries of origin—a principle known as non-refoulement. Indeed, once refugees set foot on foreign soil, they cannot be sent back to their homelands, even if it means keeping them in camps while their asylum applications are processed.
The current surge in migration to Europe has many causes. Some of them lie in the Arab Spring, a wave of pro- democracy movements that swept North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. The first uprising occurred in Tunisia, where a popular revolution overthrew long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Though Tunisians eventually formed a relatively stable government, thousands fled the upheaval for the Italian island of Lampedusa, which, because of its southern location in the Mediterranean Sea just 70 miles off the Tunisian coast, has since become a common destination for refugees traveling from North Africa.
One of the biggest flights of refugees in recent years has been from Syria, which plunged into civil war after the Arab Spring. In early 2011, Syrian protesters challenged the reign of dictator Bashar al-Assad, who responded harshly and brutally. These clashes sparked a civil war, which has since grown with many competing factions fighting for power. One of them, ISIS, an extremist militant group, has claimed large amounts of territory in parts of Iraq and Syria and become a major force in the war. Syria is currently divided into several ill-defined territories, some ruled by Assad, some by ISIS, some by various rebel groups, and some by the Kurds, an ethnic group living in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey that has long sought to establish a country of its own. The United States has repeatedly urged Assad to step down, and has lent aid to some of the more moderate Syrian rebels. It has also coordinated airstrikes against ISIS in an attempt to contain the radical group. These strikes, critics argue, might have unintentionally aided Assad, whose regime is as threatened by ISIS as it is by other rebel forces. In October 2015, the situation became further complicated when Russia—a country located just north of Syria and with strained relations with the United States—entered the conflict. Pledging to aid Assad, Russia has bombed ISIS targets but also, reportedly, struck some of the U.S.-backed rebel groups. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, France bombed major ISIS strongholds.
The Syrian civil war has claimed an estimated 250,000 lives. Some 9 million to 10 million people—more than a third of the population—have been displaced, mostly within the country. Many have fled to refugee camps in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Others have undertaken the long and dangerous journey to Europe, often through the aid of unscrupulous human smugglers.
Civil wars, repressive regimes, disease, flooding, and disasters in other countries have also swelled the numbers of refugees. Many come from Eritrea, a country with one of the most brutal and repressive governments in the world. Eritrean citizens possess few basic freedoms and are forced to work in an indefinite, open-ended program of national service that pays little and can last for much of their lives.
Other major source countries of refugees include Somalia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. Somalia has been plagued by civil war, a succession of ineffective governments, and general lawlessness. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has been
terrorized by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group allied with ISIS. Since 2013, the United Nations reports, Boko Haram has displaced an estimated 2.3 million people. In South Sudan, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long civil war, tensions between the country’s two largest ethnic groups—the Dinka and the Nuer—have erupted in violence, displacing more than 2 million people.
Tens of thousands of refugees have also fled Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries the United States invaded in the early 2000s and ousted oppressive regimes. Insurgencies have prevented either country from establishing a strong, stable government, and endemic violence has driven countless Afghans and Iraqis to leave their homes. Territorial gains by ISIS in Iraq have driven still more to flee.
In October 2013, about 350 refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Eritrea, Somalia, and other African countries died off the coast of Lampedusa when the boat carrying them caught fire and capsized. An emergency rescue operation by the Italian Coast Guard saved 155 people, but the incident spurred calls for European authorities to do more to prevent the loss of life on the Mediterranean. In response, Italy implemented Operation Mare Nostrum, an air and naval search-and-rescue program. Over the next year, Mare Nostrum saved an estimated 140,000 refugees on the Mediterranean, many of them traveling on rickety boats. The success of the program led some European leaders to warn that it would encourage more people to risk the perilous journey in the hopes they would be rescued. Others countered that the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in Africa and the Middle East would continue to drive refugees to Europe whether search-and-rescue operations existed or not.
Recognizing that this was a continent-wide problem and not one affecting only Italy, the European Union launched a new program, Operation Triton, in October 2014 to rescue refugees. Triton, however, had far less funding than Mare Nostrum, patrolled a more limited area of the Mediterranean, and emphasized border security over search-and-rescue efforts. The smaller scope of Triton, critics charged, increased the risk for refugees. Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported, the number of people who died while crossing from North Africa to Europe skyrocketed from 96 in January to May 2014 to 1,700 during the same five-month period in 2015 under Triton, despite a similar number of refugees attempting passage.
On April 19, 2015, an estimated 850 people died after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya. The next day, EU leaders agreed to expand Operation Triton, crack down on human smuggling, and increase assistance to help Italy and Greece process migrants. They also agreed that European nations would have to accept more asylum seekers. Human rights organizations, however, criticized the European Union for not doing enough to mitigate the crisis. Amnesty International, for example, charged that the EU proposals were “woefully inadequate and shameful.”
European Union Struggles to Craft Solution to Refugee Crisis
One of the main immigration laws pertinent to the debate over the recent refugee crisis is the Schengen Agreement. Crafted in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, in 1985, the law abolished passport checks and other border controls in a large part of Europe, which became known as the Schengen Area. Twenty-six European countries are currently part of the Schengen Area, including many, but not all, EU nations. Several EU nations that are not part of the Schengen Area, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania, plan to eventually join it, while others, such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, have chosen to maintain border controls. Four non-EU nations—Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland—are part of the Schengen Area.
In response to the refugee crisis, some EU countries have sought to improve border security. In 2012, for example, Greece launched Operation Shield to construct a barbed-wire fence along its border with Turkey. France has increased controls on its border with Italy, as has Denmark on its border with Germany. Indeed, Denmark, where voters recently elected a right-wing, anti-immigration government, has placed ads in newspapers in Lebanon detailing restrictive Danish immigration laws and warning refugees not to enter the country.
The implementation of border controls does not technically violate the Schengen Agreement, experts note, because it permits countries to temporarily impose such measures for reasons of national security. “Free movement,” Finnish president Sauli Niinisto said in August 2015, “cannot mean uncontrollable movement.” Many have claimed, however, that the barriers violate the spirit of the Schengen Agreement and the spirit of integration in which the European Union was founded.
Hungary—an important waypoint for refugees seeking to reach Germany or Austria, which lie to the country’s west— has also been accused of treating refugees hostilely. In September, the nation completed a fence 13 feet high along its southern border with Serbia, forcing refugees traveling from eastern Europe to detour into Croatia in search of another route to western Europe. Hungary also temporarily shut down several key rail stations to keep outsiders from traveling on to other nations, opting instead to detain them in refugee camps.
Many criticized these actions as overly harsh. Hungarian officials, however, including Prime Minister Viktor Orban, asserted that they had a duty to help Europe retain its Christian identity amid an influx of Muslims. “Those arriving have
been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” he wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German newspaper. “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”After clashes with refugees and rising international condemnation, Hungarian police ultimately let many refugees travel through the country.
The European Union currently has no common system for handling applications for asylum, leaving each country to manage the situation on its own. Most European countries hold refugees in processing or “reception” centers, where they are required to wait—often for months or years—while their applications are being reviewed. Few are granted, however, and the large number of refugees presently attempting to enter Europe has slowed the process even more.
The European Union’s main law regarding the refugee asylum process is the Dublin Regulation, which stems from a multinational agreement signed in 1990. Modified in 2013, this law requires the country in which an asylum seeker first enters Europe to process that individual’s asylum application. Under the Dublin Regulation, refugees who enter another EU country can be deported back to the first one. The rule has raised concerns in Greece and Italy—the easiest destinations for migrants traveling to Europe by sea to reach—which have borne the brunt of the influx. Greece, for example, is currently facing massive economic problems, and its government lacks the funds to deal with the refugee crisis. As a result, refugees are often kept in unsanitary and inadequate facilities. Some reception centers are so overcrowded and lacking in food and health care, Human Rights Watch has alleged, that they violate international laws forbidding cruel or degrading treatment. The Dublin Regulation, analysts add, might also increase danger for refugees who—eager to reach a destination where they might have family or better economic prospects—enlist human smugglers to help them travel undetected through more hostile countries.
In late August 2015, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would voluntarily suspend the Dublin Regulation and allow Syrian refugees who reached German territory to stay and apply for asylum, rather than face deportation back to their European entry point. Germany also pledged to receive 500,000 refugees per year and allocated $6.7 billion to help mediate the crisis. Others EU nations offered assistance, but far less than Germany. France agreed to accept 24,000 refugees annually, and the United Kingdom 20,000. British prime minister David Cameron, who had repeatedly urged policies to discourage refugees from attempting to enter Europe illegally, has said that he would most likely limit those 20,000 permits to asylum seekers applying from camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, rather than people who had already entered Europe.
Just a week after Merkel suspended the Dublin Regulation, Germany became so overwhelmed with refugees that it began imposing temporary security measures to restrict entry along its border with Austria, including cutting off train service from eastern Europe and carrying out spot checks on incoming cars. “The restrictions put in place by
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government were seen as a strong sign—if not an outright message—to other European Union members,” New York Times reporters Melissa Eddy, Rick Lyman, and Alison Smale wrote in September 2015, “that Germany was growing weary of shouldering so much of the burden in Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades without more help and cooperation from other nations.”
On September 3, the European Parliament approved a motion submitted by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece, Hungary, and Italy to other EU nations. “We Europeans should remember well that Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has at one time been a refugee,” Juncker remarked six days later. “Our common history is marked by millions of Europeans fleeing from religious or political persecution, from war, dictatorship, or oppression.” Which countries would accept how many refugees, however, remained uncertain. Some leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, backed a mandatory quota system, with each country required to accept a predetermined number. Leaders in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia had long opposed such an approach, however, calling a quota system “unacceptable.” EU ministers revised the plan in late September, reducing the number to 120,000 but still requiring each EU nation to accept some.
The plan, the New York Times reported, set quotas for each nation “based on its economic strength, population, unemployment and the number of asylum populations it has approved over the last five years.” Italy and Greece had already exceeded their quotas, the plan stated, as had Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden. But many countries had not, including Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. Under the EU plan, these 13 countries would have to welcome more refugees. Britain, Denmark, and Ireland would be excused from the quotas because the conditions of their membership in the European Union allow them certain exemptions from EU affairs, including asylum policies. [See EU Commission President Urges Europe to Welcome Refugees (primary source)]
In December, the European Union revealed a plan to transform Frontex, an EU agency that coordinates border security among member nations, into a permanent border security and coast guard force tasked with patrolling the union’s external borders. According to the International Business Times, the “move would represent a significant transfer of sovereignty from national governments” as it would “hand Frontex border agency more power and resources to intervene when it decides that a country is failing to police its borders effectively.”
As the crisis continues to draw global attention, many world leaders have called on the United States to accept more refugees. The U.S. government has allocated $4 billion to assist Syrians but has admitted few of them. In 2013, a year in which the United States granted asylum to 70,000 refugees worldwide, just 36 were Syrian. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the United States has taken in only 1,500 Syrians.
Fears that ISIS operatives will try to enter the United States by presenting themselves as refugees have kept many officials from supporting higher rates of admission. At a hearing on the subject by the House of Representatives Homeland Security Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee in June 2015, Representative Peter King (R, New York) questioned whether U.S. intelligence was capable of adequately vetting Syrian refugees seeking entry to the United States. “The online radicalization and calls by ISIS leadership for Islamists to carry out attacks in the U.S. are resonating with small pockets of U.S. society,” King stated. “There is little doubt that these calls for attacks are also resonating within the refugee community—both domestically and those still abroad.” King, who chaired the subcommittee, cited several cases of refugees in the United States who had attempted to aid radical Islamists, including two Iraqis arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 2011 for conspiring to kill Americans abroad. “America has a long and proud history of providing safe harbor for refugees,” King noted. “But we have also had refugees and asylum seekers take advantage of U.S. safe haven to plot and carry out attacks.” Some have also urged U.S. policy to favor refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly those who live in danger of retribution for assisting U.S. forces. [See Representative Peter King Cites
Security Concerns in Admitting Syrian Refugees (primary source)]
In September, President Obama announced that the United States would grant asylum to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the following year. The U.S. government would offer an expedited resettlement process, press secretary Josh Earnest stated, without cutting corners on security vetting. Later that month, Obama raised the number of global refugees the United States would accept by 2017 from 70,000 to 100,000. Following the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, however, many Republican governors warned that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in their states. States do not have the power to bar refugees from entering, but they can request the U.S. State Department not resettle refugees in their jurisdictions, as well as make resettlement challenging for refugees by withholding resources.
In early December, Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old U.S.-born California man, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, a 29- year-old Pakistani woman, opened fire on a holiday party for civil servants in San Bernardino, a community outside Los Angeles, killing 14 people. Farook had worked with the department hosting the holiday party. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found that, though the shooting was not orchestrated by ISIS and the couple was not part of a broader terrorist cell, both had likely been radicalized years before, raising questions over why security officials had not noticed them when Malik had applied for her visa application in 2014. In the wake of the incident, many questioned whether the U.S. government would be able to adequately vet incoming refugees for radical leanings.
Several days after the shooting, real estate investor and billionaire Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential primary, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The controversial proposal set off a firestorm debate that resonated with the controversy over admitting Syrian refugees.
The debate over migrants in Europe was rekindled on December 31 when, amid New Years’ Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany, hundreds women reported being sexually assaulted by gangs of men, reportedly of Middle Eastern or North African origin, roaming the city. According to the Atlantic, authorities received 516 complaints of assault that were allegedly perpetrated by as many as 1,000 men. In the weeks after the violence, German immigrants faced reprisals, with large anti-immigrant protests erupting and gangs attacking Middle Eastern and North African immigrants. The violence led some to speculate that Germany’s acceptance of refugees would lead to increasing violence in the country.
Supporters Argue: Europe and United States Should Accept More Refugees from the Middle East and Africa
Supporters of accepting more refugees from the Middle East and Africa argue that to turn them away is immoral. “This is first of all a matter of humanity and human dignity,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in September 2015. People are suffering, he added, and they are desperate to escape and to survive. “[I]magine for a second it were you, your child in your arms, the world you knew torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay, there is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not sail, no border you would not cross if it is war or the barbarism of the so-called Islamic state that you are fleeing.”
Hostility toward refugees, supporters assert, stems mainly from prejudice and bigotry. “[W]e are witnessing a deafening cacophony of xenophobic voices in response to people fleeing their own present-day horror,” Molly Scott Cato, a member of the British parliament for the Green Party, wrote for the British magazine the New Statesman. “Does the fact that these refugees are from Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so not part of our continent, provide an excuse to allow them to be bombed at home or drowned during their desperate journey to safety?”
Refugees are not aiming to displace other people seeking entry to Europe, defenders argue, but merely trying to escape the violence and chaos of their home countries. “This is clearly not an attempt by them to jump the queue of migration or anything like that, this is a humanitarian crisis,” Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told CNBC in September
2015. “What you have to do at that point is just throw your doors and gates open.”
Europe, proponents argue, must expand search-and-rescue operations to prevent further refugee deaths. “People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings,” Maurice Wren, head of the British Refugee Council, told the BBC in 2014. “Boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames.”
It is unfair to blame Syrian refugees for crimes committed by ISIS, supporters contend, and block their entry because of this. “This stigma of terrorism, the fear of a needle in the haystack tends to hold the whole haystack back,” Bill Frelick, director of the refugee rights program at Human Rights Watch, told the Los Angeles Times in September 2015. “These refugees are the very people fleeing actors like ISIS. They are people who want no part of that world and those ideologies and want to come with their children to have a decent life where they won’t cower and live in fear.”
Proponents reject the proposition that refugees drain a nation’s resources. “[T]he impulse to see migrants as chiefly a burden is profoundly mistaken,” the Economist argued in September 2015. “[T]he history of migration is a catalogue of overblown fears, with countless examples of exiles forming vibrant communities that enrich their host countries.”
Supporters contend that Europe can well afford to admit more refugees. Being “by far the wealthiest and most stable continent in the world,” Juncker stated, “we have the means to help those fleeing from war, terrorism, and oppression.”
Supporters dismiss fears that Muslim refugees will not fit into European culture. “An old idea of Christendom still lurks within modern European identity,” the Economist editorialized in September 2015. “Since the 9/11 attacks on America [when militants killed nearly 3,000 people in 2001], and terrorist murders in Europe, relations with Muslim minorities have become strained.” Welcoming them, proponents claim, will improve these relations and make the continent safer. “[C]ompassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology,” the Economist concluded. “By contrast, millions of brutalised Syrians left to fester on Europe’s fringe would be a source of extremism that will not respect any border.”
Like Europe, supporters argue, the United States should also welcome Syrians and other foreigners seeking freedom and safety. Indeed, they contend, the country is based on such principles. “When America wants to, it has opened its doors to tens of thousands of refugees…and absorbed them effortlessly,” Julia Ioffe, who arrived to the United States as a child fleeing the brutality of the Soviet Union, argued in Foreign Policy in September 2015. “In fact, you are likely the descendant of one of them yourself: people fleeing a potato famine or political unrest in 19th-century Europe, pogroms in the Russian empire, war in Asia, or genocide in Africa. In fact, you, like me, are the descendant of something far less grave than what Syrians are fleeing today.”
Supporters of opening borders to refugees argue that the December 2015 attacks in Cologne, Germany, have been exploited by anti-immigrant groups. “[T]o stigmatize all refugees on the basis of the actions of a few is pernicious,” journalists Natasha Lennard and Lukas Hermsmeier wrote for Al Jazeera in January 2016. “It’s an extrapolation that is the very definition of racism. One million refugees entered Germany last year…and to suggest that this entire group is a threat to women in Germany reproduces the worst stereotype of the invading, barbarous moor.”
Defenders argue that banning Muslims from entering the United States, as some have called for, would be fundamentally un-American as well as counter-productive to the fight against Islamic extremism. Closing U.S. borders to Muslims is “totally contrary to our values as Americans,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Obama, argued on CNN in December 2015. “But it’s also contrary to our security. The fact of the matter is ISIL wants to frame this as a war between the United States and Islam, and if we look like we’re applying religious tests to who comes into this country…that is going to make it very difficult to partner with Muslim communities here in the United States and around the world to prevent the scourge of radicalization.”
Opponents Argue: Europe and the United States Should Not Accept More Refugees from the Middle East and Africa
Opponents of accepting more refugees from the Middle East and Africa argue that such people often have difficulty assimilating into new cultures and societies. This creates numerous problems, they contend, both for them and the host countries. “Europe is learning that today’s refugees are at high risk of becoming tomorrow’s high-school dropouts, tomorrow’s unemployed, and tomorrow’s criminals,” Atlantic journalist David Frum wrote in summer 2015. “Immigrants from non-EU [European Union] countries are twice as likely as natives to drop out of secondary school. Those of working age are twice as likely to be unemployed. Immigrants are also hugely overrepresented in the prisons of France, Britain, Belgium, and other European countries.”
Failure to find jobs and assimilate, opponents contend, can potentially breed subversion and terrorist activity. “Immigrants’ economic frustration and ensuing social isolation has in turn fostered political radicalization and violent extremism,” Frum continued. “Extremist views are held by a minority of immigrants, but that minority poses Europe’s severest internal security threat since World War II.”
The current influx of Muslims to Europe, critics argue, is a threat to the continent’s cultural identity. “There is an exponential increase in the number of foreigners in France who have many more children than we do and who, sooner or later, are going to become the majority,” Bernard Monot, a French member of the European Parliament, told Politico in September 2015. “That means they bring in their own culture, and the French culture will become diluted in this magma, unless we do something strong to reverse the trend.”
Western countries opponents argue, simply do not have the resources to contend with so many people entering their borders. According to David Frum, “a 2014 study in The Economic Journal found that each year between 1995 and 2011, immigrants from outside the European Economic Area were a net drag on the United Kingdom’s budget…. The poorer the country from which migrants come, the higher the social cost of absorbing them.”
Opponents argue that accepting the refugees currently seeking to enter Europe will only spur more people to attempt the hazardous voyage by sea or land. “It is an incentive for people traffickers and will simply tell people: yes, try to cross the Mediterranean at all costs,” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said in a speech to the European Parliament in May 2015. “Member states have to protect their own borders. I think it’s insane to propose letting in all immigrants to Europe.”
Expanding EU search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, critics assert, will similarly entice more refugees to risk their lives on the perilous journey. Such operations, British Foreign Office minister Joyce Anelay stated in October 2014, encourage “more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and [will] thereby lead…to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.”
Protecting its citizens is every government’s foremost priority, opponents argue, and admitting more refugees can threaten a nation’s security. “Terrorists have made it known,” Representative Michael McCaul (R, Texas) said at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee in June 2015, “they want to manipulate the refugee program to sneak operatives to the West.”
The U.S. government, critics warn, lacks the ability to thoroughly investigate every refugee that crosses the border into the United States. “The information and intelligence we are able to acquire regarding individuals who seek to enter the U.S. is limited, and often times unverifiable,” Representative Peter King (R, New York) said at the hearing. “The U.S. has seen the danger of flawed refugee vetting, as well as the potential for refugees to be radicalized once they are in the U.S.”
Europe and the United States are not responsible for the crisis, opponents argue, and should not bear the bulk of the burden in resolving it. “Why don’t the wealthy Arab gulf states, which are awash in oil money, take in tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees?” Jeffrey Bale, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, asked the Los Angeles Times in September 2015. “Or why don’t nearby Muslim countries put pressure on [Syrian president Assad’s] regime or take military action against jihadist groups, actions which significantly reduce the number of internal and external refugees in the first place?”
Opponents argue that the New Year’s Eve attacks in Germany are an indication that there is simply too great a cultural divide between refugees and Westerners to continue to allow such migration. Conservative New York Times commentator Ross Douthat wrote in January 2016 that continued violent cultural clashes in Europe are likely if refugees are allowed to keep entering the continent. “[P]rudence requires doing everything possible to prevent it,” Douthat argued. “That means closing Germany’s borders to new arrivals for the time being. It means beginning an orderly deportation process for able-bodied young men.”
A small number of critics have argued that, because many Muslims have a fundamental hatred of the American way of life, letting any Muslims into the United States poses a security risk. “[T]here is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” Donald Trump argued in a statement released in early December. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
Refugee Crisis Likely to Have Long-Lasting Impact on EU Politics
The influx of people to Europe, observers note, will probably not abate any time soon. “[E]ven if a solution to the Syrian crisis were more easily found, Europe’s immigration problems would likely continue for years to come” due to crises and problems in other parts of the Middle East and Africa, journalist Alex Massie wrote in Foreign Policy in September 2015. “That, in turn, means that the recent rise of anti-immigrant parties in Sweden, Finland, Austria, and Hungary should be considered a feature of the new system, not a bug.” The impact that these new parties and the ongoing refugee crisis will have on politics in the European Union remains unknown.
1) Should the United States accept more refugees from Syria and other countries? Why or why not?
2) Should European Union nations accept mandatory quotas on how many refugees to admit? Explain your position.
3) How does the fact that many refugees are Muslim affect the position of policy makers in Europe and the United States? Is that fair?
4) Should the EU expand search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean?
5) Research one refugee or refugee family’s story and write an essay about their journey.
Barnard, Anne, and Karam Shoumali. “Image of Drowned Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, 3, Brings Migrant Crisis into Focus.” New York Times, September 3, 2015, www.nytimes.com.
Bender, Ruth, and Laurence Norman. “Merkel Calls for More Help in Migrant Crisis.” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015, www.wsj.com.
Bilefsky, Dan, and Melissa Eddy. “Germany and Sweden Press for E.U. Deal on Quotas for Migrants.” New York Times, September 8, 2015, www.nytimes.com.
Cato, Molly Scott. “Our Treatment of Today’s Refugees Harks Back to Europe’s Darkest Hour.” New Statesman, August 28,2015, www.newstatesman.com.
Diamond, Jeremy. “Donald Trump: Ban All Muslim Travel to U.S.” CNN, December 8, 2015, www.cnn.com.
Douthat, Ross. “Germany on the Brink.” New York Times, January 9, 2016, www.nytimes.com.
“Exodus.” Economist, September 12, 2015, www.economist.com.
Frum, David. “Closing Europe’s Harbors.” Atlantic, July/August 2015, www.theatlantic.com.
Ioffe, Julia. “Je Suis Refugee.” Foreign Policy, September 7, 2015, foreignpolicy.com.
Kaplow, Larry. “Why Are Migrants Surging into Europe Now?” National Public Radio (NPR), September 2, 2015, www.npr.org.
Lennard, Natasha, and Lukas Hermsmeier. “Germany’s Bad Answer to the Cologne Attacks.” Al Jazeera, January 9, 2016, America.aljazeera.com.
Massie, Alex. “The Refugee Crisis and Europe’s Defining Moment.” Foreign Policy, September 8, 2015, foreignpolicy.com.
Park, Jeanne. “Europe’s Migration Crisis.” Council on Foreign Relations, September 25, 2015, www.cfr.org.
Taub, Amanda. “Germany Just Did Something Huge for Syrian Refugees—and for the Future of Europe.” Vox, August 28, 2015, www.vox.com.
Varandani, Suman. “Europe Refugee Crisis: EU Plans to Strengthen Border Control, to Reveal Proposal Next Week.” December 11, 2015, www.ibtimes.com.
Witte, Griff. “Hungarian Bishop Says Pope Is Wrong About Refugees.” Washington Post, September 7, 2015, www.washingtonpost.com.
Additional information about Europe’s refugee crisis can be found in the following sources:
Caldwell, Christopher. Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.
Saunders, Doug. The Myth of the Muslim Tide. New York: Vintage Books, 2012.
Information on how to contact organizations that either are mentioned in the discussion about Europe’s refugee crisis
or can provide additional information on the subject is listed below:
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 1616 Rhode Island Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036 Telephone: (202) 887-0200 Internet: www.csis.org
Foundation for Defense of Democracies P.O. Box 33249 Washington, D.C. 20033 Telephone: (202) 207-0190 Internet: www.defenddemocracy.org
Human Rights Watch 350 5th Ave. 34th Floor New York, N.Y. 10118-3299 Telephone: (212) 290-4700 Internet: www.hrw.org
For further information about the ongoing debate over Europe’s refugee crisis, search for the following words and terms in electronic databases and other publications:
Alan Kurdi Human smuggling Syrian refugees United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Viktor Orban
“Refugee Crisis.” Issues & Controversies. Infobase Learning, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 Feb. 2016. <http://icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=15045>.
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