Many European countries are facing pressure from the public to admit fleeing migrants into their counties by the public after the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkey beach went viral. Aylan and his family were fleeing Syria, but during transit, their boat overturned, and Aylan, their brother Galip, and his mother perished at sea. Abdullah Kurdi, Aylan's father, managed to keep from drowning until help arrived.
Aylan’s death brings a very important issue to the headlines of our world: Europe’s migrant crisis. What defines a refugee? That is the question many European countries are debating due to the overwhelming numbers of fleeing Syrian people. A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their home country because of dangerous conflict that makes their safety uncertain. They are entitled to basic international rights, as stated in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and allowed to stay in the country they have escaped to. In contrast, a migrant is someone who chooses to relocate for a chance at a better life. They are bound under their destinations immigration laws.
Some of those people who do not qualify for asylum or have the proper paperwork attempt to cross into a neighboring country to just get away from their homeland. Currently, 49% of Syrians have fled the country, and more are expected to leave. Most refugees from Syria who cannot get out of the country through official means attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Like most of Aylan’s family, a large number will not make it. Thousands have died crossing in makeshift, overcrowded boats, and even if they do make it to the shore, there is always the risk of getting caught by border patrol. Registered sea captains will not transport refugees because if they are caught, the fine is steep, and their license is jeopardized. Human traffickers are being called upon to guide the refugees across the sea.
Previously, Afghanistan had been the country outputting the most refugees. But, within the last two years, Syria has far surpassed their numbers. Around 400,000 people, migrant and refugee, have entered the European Union between January and August 2015 while 2014 saw less than 300,000 the entire year. Europe is not the only one taking in these fleeing people. Africa, Canada, and even America have admitted refugees in an effort to relieve the strain on Europe. But the most help is coming from countries closer to Syria. Turkey, located on Syria’s border, has taken on a little less than half of them in the four years since the war in Syria began. Four million Syrians have left in an attempt to get away from the civil war and ISIS. Lebanon, a significantly smaller country than Turkey, has taken on an average of a million people. Antonio Guterres, the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees said, “The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering.” Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt have been particularly welcoming in the whole process, with Egypt having no refugee camps whatsoever.
However, much of this migration has been conducted under illegal pretenses, making it difficult for some countries to distinguish between asylum requests, pure migration, and illegal immigration. Germany is the top contender for sorting through asylum requests and the Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, expects 800,000 applications before the year is out. Sweden, another refugee welcoming country, is urging the rest of Europe to accept these people.
The Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister, Margot Wallstrom said, “We accept that every person has a right to seek asylum. This also puts the European solidarity to a test. I think it's important that we signal being a community that rests common values of democracy and defense of human rights.”
But the influx of people is putting a strain on most countries. Hungary had taken some particularly extreme measures to keep illegal travelers out. A barbed wire fence has been constructed and constantly repaired whenever a way through is found. Hungarian police have even tear-gassed refugees who have made it over the barrier. The U.N has been sure to announce that they do not support Hungary’s ‘cold war techniques’.
The U.S has taken 1,800 refugees in the last four years but President Barack Obama has stated that he and his administration were working on accepting ten thousand more in the next fiscal year. The U.S has an allotted quota to 75,000 per fiscal year, but the number can be raised during an international crisis. The U.N reports that the U.S has given the largest amount of financial aid to Syria since the start of the war in 2011.
The tag #refugeeswelcome has been trending on Twitter by thousands of people advocating for their country to let in more refugees. It seems that the entire world is wrapped up in the migrant/refugee crisis. John Green, creator of Crash Course, has put together an informative video explaining the whole issue. Watch it here.