by Aidan Stoddart
The European continent has been utterly divided by the recent and unprecedented influx of migrants from Africa and Asia. The migrants are leaving all sorts of situations; some have abandoned their homelands due to war, political unrest, oppression, and to escape terrorist groups like the Islamic State, while others seek economic and social opportunity.
This year alone, 400,000 migrants have entered Europe, and fifteen times as many reside in refugee camps throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. Turkey currently hosts 1.6 million refugees, Jordan hosts 600,000, and Lebanon hosts 20 for every 1000 Lebanese citizens. If the United States were to host refugees with an equal proportion, it could harbor around 6 million. But, as it is, the US plans to take in 30,000 refugees by 2017.
Meanwhile, Europe is accommodating huge numbers of refugees. This year, Germany plans to take in 800,000 refugees- about 1 percent of the German population. The central European nation has been famously welcoming of the growing numbers of migrants. Stories report large crowds of enthusiastic Germans eagerly welcoming migrants arriving on trains with cheers and signs. Sweden has also been a leader in welcoming migrants, strongly advocating an aid-minded approach.
“It’s never about numbers,” said one Swede in a BBC street interview. “There can be as many people as there is [sic] as long as we can take care of them and integrate them into society.”
When one Swede was asked if he would pay taxes to support the migrants, he said he would, and when he was asked if doing so would affect him negatively, he said, “Maybe it will. But I don’t care- of course I will pay more taxes if we can help people.”
Sweden certainly appears to have an ethos of welcoming, but according to Lisa Åkesson of the University of Gothenburg, the stance of Sweden is nothing radical. Speaking of the Syrian situation especially, she said, “I don’t think that Sweden is so very open; I think that other countries are very closed given the situation in Syria.”
It’s true; not all European nations have been as accepting of migrants as Sweden or Germany. Hungary especially, debatably overwhelmed by hosts of migrants, has been subject to a great deal of criticism from pro-migrant voices.
Hungarian police have been known to use tear gas and water cannons on crowds of migrants, and refugee camps in Hungary have been compared to prison camps.
Critics compared the conditions in one viral video of a Hungarian migrant camp to animal cages, in which sandwiches were carelessly thrown over crowds to various families.
“We did not expect Europe to be like this,” one migrant said. “We always heard that Europeans took care of each other. And took care of animals. So it was a surprise when we were treated worse than dogs.”
“Sometimes they gave us no food, no water,” said another. “The children were sick. But they didn’t care. It was very unhygienic- people were sleeping in tight places, families all on top of each other.”
Hungary has also been closing off its borders with nations like Croatia to help stop the flow of migrants.
One voice critical of Hungary’s unwelcoming approach to the migrant crisis belongs to Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. Juncker is discouraged by the lack of support for migrants in some nations, and stresses the European responsibility to help the situation. He is proposing a system of mandatory quotas in Europe to help fairly distribute the migrants so that they may safely find places of asylum, and would like to institute a legal immigration package for the future.
“I really hope that this time, everyone will be on board… no rhetorics!” said Juncker in a speech. “Action is what is needed for the time being… Over time, migration must change from a problem to be tackled to a well managed resource.”
The future remains undecided for the migrants in Europe. Some nations are very welcoming while others remain reluctant and wary of the rising migrant populations. But winter is coming, asserted Juncker, and action is absolutely imperative for the safety of migrants.
“We can build walls; we can build fences. But imagine for a second it were you, your child in your arms, the world you knew torn apart around you. There is no price you would not pay, there is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not sail, no border you would not cross if it is war or the barbarism of the so-called Islamic State you are fleeing,” said Juncker.