The Syrian Refugee Crisis Explained

No other “To-Do” list has become more important than Europe’s. At the top of the list (and probably taking up the top three spots) is its migrant crisis. If there’s ever been a world issue, this is the very definition of it. Currently, thousands of migrants find themselves stranded in Hungary as they try to make their way into Germany. This year, Germany plans to accept 800,000 refugees, and that isn’t their cap. In fact, there is no cap on the number of refugees they will accept at all. They are urging many countries to do the same, but will they follow?

Migrants protest outside of Hungary’s main train station, as it closes down for the day.

The majority of these migrants are from Syria. Syria, having entered its fourth year of a very complex civil war, along with brutal persecution and threats from groups like ISIS, has created a dangerous living situation for its civilians. Syrians have been forced to flee and scatter further than just neighbouring countries. Drifting dangerously on motorless dinghies through the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, people have been arriving on the coasts of Italy and Greece. Trekking grimly to the north has landed many in Hungary, on route to Germany.

Germany and Austria have both opened up its borders to fleeing migrants. Most, however, want to find refuge in Germany. It makes sense, as their strong economy as an epitome of success and life in the West. Still, the welcome signs are there and natives are smiling and cheering as migrants get off train cars.

Back in Greece, coastlines have seen a myriad of migrants arriving throughout the month of August. The disheveled, exhausted and jaded travelers have to deal with ambivalence and fear as clashes begin between groups and police officers on the island of Lesbos begin. And as Italy runs out of room, a cruise ship houses migrants until further notice.

The sadness is conspicuous in both of these stories, no matter how each country tries to palliate the situation. But it seems only Germany and Austria are taking the humanitarian approach. Since Hungary tries its best to block and forge groups of people piling in (as they try their best to get more people through the country, instead of situated in it), much criticism has arisen about how they are handling the situation imprudently. At this point, convoys are being sent from Germany and into Hungary to pick up migrants safely, in hopes that they will settle into a better life under the Bundestag.

Lately, the U.N. has released a statement saying the obvious: every country has a responsibility to take on refugees. This being the biggest influx of moving people since World War II, policy makers must move quickly in order to figure out the numbers. Germany and France, under the E.U., are working towards a policy that implements quotas, ensuring that the migrants get spread evenly across Europe. Alongside these policies, they are urging other countries to follow suit and have criticized the U.K. for not doing enough.

I unconditionally agree that this responsibility transcends European borders. Here, in the midst of a Canadian election campaign, leaders seem to be saying something about accepting refugees. However, it must be kept in mind that since these words are being uttered during a campaign, they are campaign promises. They will not happen soon and its not guaranteed that they will be kept. As far as Canada’s current policies go, under Harper’s government, over the next four years, 10,000 Syrian refugees will be taken in. This is where we have to be critical.

The Liberals have pledged, and even asked Harper, to increase the limit to 25,000 migrants. The NDP has also reproached the current party, asking for an increase. Chris Alexander, the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has stated that even though only 10,000 are being accepted over a course of a few years, there are no caps to applications. Actually, the application process has been shortened to make it easier.


10,000 people are only half of what Austria is accepting this year. It is only an eighth of Germany, and not to mention a minimal fraction of the millions who have run to neighbouring Lebanon in the last four years. We are the second largest country in the world in terms of land, and yet the smaller ones are taking on the biggest responsibilities: the safety of human life. This isn’t politics, but it’s being treated as a campaign issue. It’s being used for votes and as a condition for airstrikes in the Middle East. A shortened application process only means more migrants are going to be rejected refugee status. It doesn’t seem like much of a point to shorten the process at all if for this reason.

Sometimes, it is a question of resources and boundaries. But can one really say that their boundaries lie short of a humanitarian crisis? Must there be limitations for people who are already so limited by the lack of safety, health and home that their own country has failed to provide them with? Humanity is filled with compassion and empathy, and during times like these, these features needs to be demonstrated and acted upon. We can’t ignore this, as it grows right in front of us. We can only push our government to respond faster and more effectively. Hopefully we will soon see European policies crossing borders. And with that, I soon hope to stand with the growing number of supporters with their welcome signs, waiting to give nothing less than full compassion and empathy.

References and Pictures:

CBC News