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360. Confronted with an Unanswerable Dilemma

Refugee Crisis in Europe

Seo, Jiyoung 기자2015.11.24 20:48:35

           The whole world is facing the most serious refugee crisis this year since World War Ⅱ. According to statistics from the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the number of refugees who arrived in Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea was already over 700 thousand in October, 2015. Therefore, European countries continue to struggle with the flood of Syrians, expressing contrary opinions based on their particular stance. Although refugees from the Middle East had existed before, Syrian refugees have especially engaged global attention because of the massive numbers and the purpose, which is not for economical reasons, but for survival.

 

1. The Background of Syrian Refugees : Civil War

           The reason why Syrians have no choice but to leave their country is to survive from the civil war. The outbreak of the civil war dates back to the the early spring of 2011, when citizens demanded democracy against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad's government. The government suppressed the nationwide pre-democracy protests with violent crackdowns. This conflict between armed rebels and the government forces then intensified, combined with cultural, social, and political causes in Syria. As for the cultural cause, even though there seems to be no religious discrimination in Syria and the nationality is based on Arab Socialism, it has a dual social structure between the Sunni (including most citizens) and the Alawi, who monopolize the Establishment. After the rebels and the government forces began to conflict, sectarian perspectives came up as a support base of each group. Furthermore, the scope of this conflict had expanded internationally because the Alawi, as a denomination of the Shi'a, was supported by Iran, where the Shi’a originated. It finally formed an international political dispute between Iran, Russia, and China, who support the government force, and the United States and Israel, who support the rebels. While the state of affairs was unstable, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is a group of Islamic extremist terrorists, burst on to the international scene in 2014. Consequently, Syrian refugees suffered from three forces, and they evacuated to refugee camps in neighboring countries, escaping from the civil war. However, the refugee camps could not cope with the innumerable number of refugees, and cold, hunger, and diseases made the situation worse. Therefore, refugees decided to migrate to Europe as the last option.

 

2. Aspects in Early Stage: the Increased Number of Refugees

           Over the last four years, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has counted four million refugees migrating to neighboring countries. At the early stage, refugees mostly converged on Southern Europe, where the border countries are located, as the entrance of Europe. According to European Union (EU) law based on the Dublin Regulation, refugees have to stay and apply for asylum in the country they arrived first in Europe. For this reason, the number of refugees who arrived in Southern Europe increased dozens of times after the civil war broke out. However, border countries, including Italy, Greece, and Turkey, soon went through similar difficulties, putting enormous pressure on them. Moreover, while moving across the Mediterranean Sea by small, overcrowded boats, an increasing number of refugees died in accidents.

 

3. International Opinion : Pros and Cons

           Despite the numerous problems related with refugees, other European countries did not give positive aid or share the responsibility for accommodating the refugees. This changed when the image of a drowned three-year-old refugee boy, Aylan Krudi, spread to the public, and forced European countries to make their positions clear. First of all, Germany agreed to accommodate refugees without any limit, and was followed in this decision by Austria. During divided argument among European nations, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggested that Europe should implement a quota system, which would distribute 120,000 refugees across the EU. However, the position of France and United Kingdom was that they would only accommodate a limited number of refugees. In addition, Eastern European countries such as Hungary and the the Czech Republic strongly rejected calls for quotas.

 

4. Recent Developments in Europe : Anti-Refugee Sentiment

           Recently, however, the situation has become worsened again. Over 100 thousand asylum seekers came to Germany in just a month right after Germany officially announced its policy, and the government of Germany could hardly control and process the huge amount of refugees. Finally, Germany and Austria also restrained refugees from crossing their borders. The countries who were opposed to accepting refugees tightened up their security even more by installing walls around their borders. In addition, negative public opinion, called ‘anti-refugee sentiment’, had spread around  Europe as many Europeans worried about security, collapse of the social system, fear of ISIS terrorism and the high birth rate of Muslims.

 

           It is hard to judge whether each country’s decisions on the refugee question are right or wrong, because it is not a simple matter for European countries. They have to judge whether to fulfill their responsibility for helping refugees or to put national security and stability above ethical decisions. However, even though it still remains a controversy, it is important to discuss this issue internationally and find better alternatives for this unsolved dilemma.

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