By: Kara Haselton
The iconic photo of the little boy, Aylan Kurdi, that broke the heart of the world has drawn attention to the growing issue of migrants in Europe. His body washing up on the shore of Turkey has provoked people to ask questions such as, “Where are all these people coming from and why are they leaving their home country?”
The largest majority of migrants and refugees come from Syria. The civil war that broke out in the Arab Spring of 2011, has “killed more than 300,000 people… and prompted more than 4 million people to run for their lives,” states CNN. Syrian refugees take up more than a quarter, some say up to 34%, of all the world’s refugees. They are fleeing, not only from their country’s four year civil war, but also from the growing power of the terrorist group, ISIS.
Before Syria took the lead, Afghanistan was the major source of the world’s refugees. In 2014, 1.66 million Afghans submitted asylum applications to other countries in Europe, and they are still the second largest producer of asylum seekers today, according to CNN. Besides trying to flee ISIS, “Afghans [are] looking to escape the war with the Taliban rebels,” CFR.org reports. They make up 12% of refugees in the world.
Eritrea is another country that has caused thousands of migrants to seek refuge in other countries. CNN quotes the Human Rights Watch in an infographic saying, “Eritrea’s human rights situations and military draft are motivating thousands to flee the country every month.” Eritreans also make up 12% of the migrants fleeing their home countries.
ISIS has not only terrorized Syria, but has also taken over part of Iraq. In attempt to escape ISIS, more than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced pursuing refuge in other European countries. While Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are the countries of origin for the greatest number of migrants, other countries, such as South Sudan, Kosovo, Pakistan, and Nigeria, are producing a significant amount of migrants as well. In South Sudan, the country “has been riven by internal fighting,” and 2.2 million people have attempted to flee, according to CNN. Sources indicate that 23,260 refugees come from Kosovo, 10,717 from Nigeria, and 6,641 from Pakistan.
In the process of fleeing these war-torn countries, migrants have encountered unspeakable horrors. BBC quoted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as saying, “More than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, trying to reach Greece or Italy.” The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 411,567 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, with 2,900 dead or missing. On August 27, two boats left Libya and sank on their way across the Mediterranean sea, and about 500 migrants drowned. However, traveling on land has proved to be just as dangerous as traveling over water. On the same day, August 27, an abandoned van was found in Austria that held 71 supposedly Syrian refugees, packed together in the vans tight space. When they were found, they had all died from suffocation because their van had no windows. CNN briefly interviewed one of the migrants who had just completed his journey through Hungary: “‘We went through a torture,’ he said. ‘We walked 110 kilometers (68 miles) with the children. They didn’t allow us to take cars or trains.”
Even if the migrants and refugees make it to their first destination, there are additional difficulties caused by the European countries and their governments. BBC reports that “more than 350,000 migrants were detected at the European Union’s (EU) borders in January-August 2015, compared with 280,000 detections for the whole of 2014.” The scores of migrants attempting to cross into European countries is sparking the debate about whether the EU should accept all these people. According to the New York Times, “The European Union’s top executive proposed a plan on Wednesday to distribute 160,000 migrants throughout the member nations, even while acknowledging that this measure alone was inadequate to the depth of the crisis.” Countries in the EU realize that these migrants and refugees seek refuge and need to escape their country of origin; however, they are still partially unwilling to accept them. Britain and France have now “offered haven to a combined 44,000 migrants, the latest efforts by Europe to cope with its worst migration crisis since World War II,” reports USAToday.com.
The least receptive of the European countries is Hungary. It is a major transit point for refugees and migrants trying to get through to Austria or Germany. However, according to CNN, Hungary “is planning to build a 13-foot-high fence, 110 miles long, along its border with Serbia to stop the flow of migrants across its territory.” When asked whether migrants or “asylum seekers” should be allowed to enter, 46% percent of Hungarians were against it, according to a poll conducted by CFR.org. Not only this, but migrants who successfully get to Hungary are mistreated and forced to survive under inhumane living conditions. Amnesty International representative, Barbora Cernusakova is quoted by CNN as saying, “These are simply not conditions where you put a person who’s been through a traumatizing journey through several countries… and actually these people are in many, many cases escaping an armed conflict. This is absolutely unacceptable.”
In contrast, there are other countries that have been more welcoming towards migrants. Austria and Germany, for example, are willing to do what they can to aid refugees. The government of Germany has decided to accept 800,000 refugee applications for asylum, and CNN states that 88% of Germans are willing to help refugees by donating clothes or money, and 67% are willing to volunteer. Austrians have shown a lot of love and support as well. “Many [Austrians] have brought food and water and cheered for the refugees pouring onto the platform at Vienna’s train station,” CNN reports.
Despite the horrors these migrants have faced, there have been some heartwarming stories to come out of their trials. For instance, CNN describes the story of the Greek vacationer, Sandra Tsiligeridu, who saved the life of a Syrian refugee, Mohammed Besmar. While boating near a coast of Greece, Tsiligeridu saw something in the ocean, which she would later realize was a person waving his hands, trying to get someone’s attention. Tsiligeridu pulled this man out of the ocean onto her boat. He had been clinging to a lifejacket for 13 hours. After saving this man’s life she said, “…from the moment I saw the person in the water, my soul became so deeply saddened that it felt like I was in his position… I didn’t think at any point if what we’re doing was dangerous, if it was allowed or illegal — a human soul was in danger and trying to save this person was for me the most natural thing.” While compassion is a natural response to the refugee crisis, even compassion has its limits. According the The Guardian, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had a conversation with a young Palestinian girl and responded to her appeal by saying, “You’re right in front of me now and you’re an extremely nice person. But you also know in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands [of refugees] and if we were to say you can all come … we just can’t manage it.” Chancellor Merkel understands that refugees and migrants need help, but also realizes that it is not possible for Germany alone to provide for them. In order to provide for the flood of refugees arriving on Europe’s doorstep, it will take a unified effort.