Flunking on Migration: Solving the 2015-2016 Migrant Crisis

An international issue demands a global response


           If the European Migration Crisis of 2015-2016 was a test, then the EU has most certainly failed. Should the EU want to definitively resolve the fallout surrounding the Migration Crisis, then they will need to lead a cooperative response that is as genuinely international as the global issues it seeks to address. Refugees by nature are not inhibited by borders, yet most EU member states have pursued short-sighted policies constricted by national and regional boundaries. Although the most publicized effects of the crisis have regionally disrupted the politics of Europe, the problems that led to the current situation are international. Suffice to say, the problem goes beyond the boundaries of the EU and any proposed solution that does not address both the problems and promises facing asylum seekers will fail. Potential solutions should primarily concern refugees and their countries of origin, as these people and their countries are most profoundly impacted by the global issues at hand. The current solutions that try to address the symptoms of the crisis only resolve marginal issues while leaving the countries of refugee origin in tumult, a fact which will result in even greater future policy headaches. The EU should cooperate with the greater international community and work to eliminate the transnational issues by creating new agreements, establishing safe zones and eventually working to rebuild infrastructure.

          In reaction to the overwhelming influx of refugees and migrants, states within the EU have primarily taken one of two courses of action: they have either accepted these displaced and worked to integrate them, or deported them to their countries of origin. Although these solutions do somewhat address the problems posed by large numbers of refugees, they do not address the true threat- the poor quality of life and the conflicts that create refugees in the first place. This particular refugee crisis began in 2015 when large numbers of Syrian refugees risked their lives across the Aegean sea and moved to the wealthier EU member states through the newly opened Balkans route(Directorate General, 2). Reactions were varied, but most EU member states either initially decided to openly accept migrants (Germany and Sweden) to flatly fence them out (such as Hungary). Both responses raise important points about the balance between sovereignty and global responsibility, but each is handicapped as a comprehensive solution by the unspoken assumptions that underpin it. 

        The countries that accepted refugees did so out of a combination of misguided humanitarian sentiment and economic realism. The humanitarian argument was that Europe had a moral imperative to accept asylum applications- an argument with a high electoral cost, as demonstrated in recent elections and events such as Brexit. The Migration Crisis added strain onto the already struggling integration process in many countries across Europe. In the words of Angela Merkel, whose initially welcoming stance prompted many refugees and migrants to undertake the difficult journey to the EU, “This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed” (Weaver, 1). The underlying assumption beneath this idea that EU member states have an moral obligation to accept migrants into their own homes, which is not true. There are alternatives that impact the lives of more suffering people at lower financial, social and cultural cost.

        The economic argument for accepting refugees is that aging European workforces should be shored up by high rates of immigration to encourage continual population and economic growth. This philosophy of infinite growth is inherently contradictory and ignores the social and cultural dimensions of immigration at its own peril. The kind of refugee resettlement the EU is currently practicing is a permanent solution that addresses a limited demographic seeking to escape temporary issues such as the Syrian Civil War. Furthermore, it leaves millions to languish behind in and around their country of origin at high cost on a mistaken moral or economic pretext. Instead, the EU should go to the source of the crisis and help people there. According to research by Karen Ziegler at the Center For Immigration studies, there is also a great financial incentive in housing refugees in local camps, as $1,570 in aid can comfortably provide decent accommodations for one refugee (Camarota, 2), allowing humanitarian efforts to significantly improve living conditions for a reasonable amount of foreign aid. This plan costs significantly less than the refugee resettlement programs offered by EU member states, whose price tags range in the tens of thousands of dollars per annum (Williams, 1). Such a high cost in foreign aid or domestic welfare naturally comes at the expense of the host states population, a fact seized upon by proponents of the popular alternative solution: repatriating and fencing out migrants.

         In addition to being members of the global community and transnational blocs such as the EU, sovereign nation-states have an obligation to promote and protect the interests of their people. Though border control is an important matter for any government, a strong wall only helps the host nation behind it. Refugees do not simply disappear off the face of the earth when deported. If accepting refugees fails to touch on the heart of the issue, walling them out and deporting them back fails all the more so. As professor Paul Collier argues, the problems of the developing world are also the problems of the developed world. Thanks to new levels of globalized interdependence, events such as civil wars and economic crashes reverberate throughout the world. This is an important consideration populists and right-wing parties seeking to close off borders typically ignore or underplay. For example, a typical civil war will cost $64 billion dollars per year to the economies of the divided country and its neighbors (Collier, 32).

          It is hard to gauge the total cost of a conflict as devastating as the Syrian civil war, but the price to the international community is enormous. The problems afflicting refugees are what  Chernotsky and Hobbs call “global issues… they transcend state boundaries and require a collective response.”(Chrenotsky and Hobbs, 13). Controlling borders is important, but that response is limited in scope and short-sighted when dealing with an issue as enormous as the Migration Crisis. Issues like sectarian conflict and population growth demonstrably transcend borders. States cannot solve this crisis alone. Only by working with a broad coalition of states and IGOs can they hope to address the threats posed by instability in nations of refugee origin.

            If the migrant crisis is a sea of uncertainty, then the current solutions above are desperate efforts to hold back the rising tide of human misery. Beneath the surface, a plethora of intertangled issues threaten to bubble up: conflict, overpopulation and climate change. Firstly, conflict. Civil war is openly ravaging Syria and Libya as the debate over immigration consumes Europe. Instead of intervening or effectively supporting peace deals addressing the root cause, governments are treating the symptoms- namely rounding up refugees and human traffickers, a solution that does nothing to help the millions of internally displaced peoples in countries wracked by civil war. Secondly, overpopulation poses a looming threat to already overwhelmed and destabilized countries across the developing world. In this context, accepting migrants and refugees is a temporary solution that delays future malthusian crises that will inevitably devastate low development countries (Collier, 74). Although it is impossible to be certain exactly how such exponential growth will resolve itself in a finite space with limited resources, the results will certainly include more refugees, more resource scarcity, more conflict and greater stress placed on infrastructure and the environment (Malthus, 14). Thirdly, climate change is beginning to affect countries globally, hitting those least prepared to handle it the hardest. Many countries of refugee origin have suffered from severe weather patterns, possibly influenced by climate change. For instance, the unusually strong 2007-2011 drought in Syria devastated the country in the years leading up to the civil war, priming it for particularly nasty sectarian conflict. Even alone, any one of these global issues beyond the capacity and jurisdiction of any one single country. Together they brew a perfect storm that promotes the continuation of the refugee crisis today. Without outside assistance, the scope of these issues will only worsen in the coming years, making it all the more urgent for the international community to fix a response to the current crisis before future waves of migration wash up on European shores. 

         A truly global response to the Migration Crisis will include all regional actors as well as various global ones. It will address the symptoms and the disease: the refugees fleeing and the conflict and bad circumstances they flee from. This long list of partners should be spearheaded by EU diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, with countries like the United States and organizations like NATO and the UN acting in a supporting capacity. The first steps of the solution should address the domestic front, increasing border controls, setting up a refined deportation system and most importantly, increasing foreign aid. The second step should make provisions for war-torn countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya. Overseen by the UN, the EU, NATO, and various actors should meet to diplomatically establish “safe zones” in and around areas affected by civil war and then set up refugee camps in these safe zones. With the help of increased EU aid, the UN will provide quality housing, education and services for refugees. With safe zones established and protected by the UN, the parties mentioned above can work towards peace agreements and work to rebuild destroyed infrastructure. Thirdly, global actors should collectively move to address overpopulation and climate change in countries of refugee origin as well as other vulnerable regions to prevent future crises. These steps are not a definitive solution, they are a beginning. That beginning will nonetheless form the core of a more cohesive policy for stabilizing at-risk countries and preventing future catastrophe.

        The EU has been asking whether or not it should admit refugees when the real question is “why is this crisis happening and how can it be resolved?” To find an answer to that question in this current globalist age, countries need to look beyond their borders and to each other as partners. The story of the refugee, whether he be Syrian, Libyan, Yemeni, Iraqi or Afghani is the story at the heart of the migration crisis and should be the focal point around which humanitarian policy is structured. His motives for fleeing are individual, but are always tied to issues global in scope and all-to-often catastrophic in implication. The response should therefore be inclusive, diplomatic, humanitarian and above all else, radically international. It should acknowledge borders and cultural differences, but recognize the mutual good in a common solution. When a crisis does not stop at the border, neither can the solution. 


Cited Sources

Camarota, Steven, and Zeigler, Karen.

Camarota, Steven, and Karen Zeigler. “The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees.” CIS.org, 4 Nov. 2015, cis.org/Report/High-Cost-Resettling-Middle-Eastern-Refugees.

Chernotsky, Harry Ira and Hobbs, Heidi H.

Chernotsky, Harry Ira, and Heidi H. Hobbs. Crossing Borders: International Studies for the 21st Century. CQ Press, 2018.

Collier, Paul.

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done about It. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Convention of Geneva

Convention of Geneva. “What Is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning | USA for UNHCR.”Definition and Meaning | USA for UNHCR, 1951, www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/.

Directorate General of the EU.

Directorate General. “The EU and the Migration Crisis.” European Commission, publications.europa.eu/webpub/com/factsheets/migration-crisis/en/.

Hardin, Garrett.

Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The Tragedy of the Commons, vol. 162, no. 3859, 13 Dec. 1968, pp. 1243–1248.

Malthus, Thomas Robert

Malthus, Thomas Robert. First Essay on Population: 1798. Macmillan, 1966.

Weaver, Matthew.

Weaver, Matthew. “Angela Merkel: German Multiculturalism Has 'Utterly Failed'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Oct. 2010, www.theguardian.com/world/2010/oct/17/angela-merkel-german-


Williams, Robin.

Williams, Robin. “Syrian refugees will cost ten times more”. War Child UK, Independent. 13 March. 2016.



©2019 by William Southworth.

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