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EU Responses to the Refugee Crisis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: European Studies
Wordcount: 5538 words Published: 11th Feb 2019

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How have the European Union member states handled the Refugee Crisis? Discuss how it should be dealt with.


The European Migrant / Refugee Crisis means a massive refugee movement since 2015 with leap in casualties as a result of local disputes in Africa and the Middle East, moving from the original region to the European Union through the Mediterranean Sea or southeast Europe (The UN Refugee Agency, 2015; Amnesty International, 2015). Of course, before this point, Europe had experienced a series of situations in which many refugees and immigrants flowed in and were accepted. However, the European refugee crisis after 2015 started from the state that no one knows practical and exact solutions with the massive scale per movement, unpredictability that nobody can confirm termination point, and with difficulties in methods that cannot be solved by methods of border blockade and movement control. It also showed unknown and unique characteristics to be explored through actual cases and for concrete solutions. (Townsend, 2015). Because this situation is unprecedented situation for the international community after World War II, the international community, centering on the United Nations, categorizes it as a special case.

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In relation to the refugee issue, the EU member states are facing a number of controversies and serious confrontations over the acceptance of refugees. For example, the EU Commission has warned that the refugee capacity and economic burden of Greece and Italy, as the first arrivals of Syrian and North African refugees, have already reached their limits, and emphasized that they can no longer watch this issue but the EU member states need to share each other’s suffering through the refugee quota system. For that, the member states advocating the acceptance of refugees actively such as Germany and France, accepted the relocation scheme for 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy, while the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, expressed their dissent. (The guardian, 2016; Trauner, 2016) In this regard, this essay will categorize EU member states’ response to refugee acceptance into two broad categories, and examine their claims and the challenges that remain for them in the future. I will start with the opinions of Germany as a representative of Western European countries that have been favored for refugees since 2015, accepting the largest number of immigrants in Europe.[1] Then, I will mainly analyze the Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who opposed the refugee policy and argued the temporary refugee allocations cannot be a solution. In addition to their differences, I would like to discuss solutions that could be implemented differently in the EU, member states, individuals and other continents.

Literature Review

Historically, the movement of peoples or tribes has always existed, and its forms have been very varied, such as voluntary or forced migration, immigration or refugees. However, as the number of refugees coming to Europe has increased sharply since 2015, studies on immigration policy and the improvement of legal system have been actively conducted in Europe and elsewhere. Mchugh (2015) produced in-depth press releases analyzing the phenomenon of refugee situations reinforcing the conservative immigration policy of the right-wing political forces, however, with the anti-immigrant sentiment associated with the refugee crisis and the rise of populist parties, many similar studies are still underway. Also, Ross and Zaun (2016) have explored the relationship between the global economic crisis and immigration policy, and many researches have been actively carried out in relation to the fact that the refugee crisis is a problem that cannot be separated from the economic crisis. Nevertheless, I think it is time to find solutions in a different level with the existing crises in Europe, in the way that the European Union, which appears to be a collective of humanitarian societies, is in fact very vulnerable to external shocks, and even though the European Union is formally a democratic ideal society, it is very difficult to reach consensus by gathering opinions among internal members. And this European refugee situation is not only an economic and political issue, but also a problem with a fairly complex ethical dimension. In addition, it is not a matter of European continent alone, but it is a problem that the world should cooperate with. Therefore, we should find some suggestions that can be suggested not only to EU member countries but also to North America and Asia.


The UN 1951 Refugee Convention, the basis for the establishment of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), describes the refugees as:

… being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events …
(UNHCR, 2011)

Europe has long been in the midst of refugee problems, but the immediate cause of European refugee problems since 2015 is closely linked to the Syrian civil war. In the context of the democratization movement after Arab Spring, there has been a civil war between Syrian rebels and government troops to evacuate Al Assad’s government from 2011, and the disastrous consequences of the IS occupation of eastern Syria, the number of refugees as victims has explosively increased. In September, 2015, a photograph of a 3-year-old boy a Kurdish Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, who was killed in the middle of a move from Syria to Europe, caused a major international impact. (The Independent, 2015) This led to the turning of countries that were passive in accepting refugees to an active position.

On the other hand, in the European Union, conflicts are occurring between Member States due to the two basic treaties, the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Treaty, which are applied in relation to the acceptance of refugees. First, the Schengen Agreement (1985) is a border open treaty between EU member states that requires the elimination of borders and immigration procedures, and assure the equal treatment of nationals with their own nationals. In the case of refugee matters, the Schengen Treaty has more significance, because when a visa is granted in one country people can enjoy freedom of movement within the Schengen zone. Meanwhile, the Dublin Convention, which started in 1990 in the 12 member states of the European Union and entered into force in 1997, is a treaty establishing the principle that which country should apply for refugee applications filed with each member state and ensuring that the country in charge of refugee is dealing with the issue. The meaning of the Dublin Treaty in refugee issues is that it has curbed the prevalence of refugee claims in certain European Union countries and has clearly identified the need for states to assume equal responsibility for refugee acceptance. However, this two treaties confronts the unexpected difficulties. Due to geopolitical conditions, it is Greece and Italy where the refugees firstly arrive through the Mediterranean, while it is Hungary when they use land route through Turkey. However, due to various reasons including economic recession and security problems, it is difficult for these countries to accept mass refugees. Even if these countries accept refugees, it is a problem because it is contrary to the basic purpose of the Dublin Treaty, based on the equal responsibility of accepting refugees. Also, various problems which can be caused by freedom of movement guaranteed in Schengen treaty leads to the case where the Dublin Treaty is virtually rendered impotent.

How the Member States Responded

Germany has a key position in the European Union, reserving the Dublin Treaty on August, 2015 and proclaiming unconditional acceptance of Syrian refugees, giving a bit of a breath of fresh air to the Mediterranean countries, including Greece. Germany decided to focus on the policy by actively accepting refugees in order to resolve the problems and declared to accept about 800,000 refugees of about 1.2 million refugees arriving in Europe, which is about 1% of the population of Germany[2]. (BBC, 2016) In addition to these actions, Germany pressed the Middle-Eastern European countries to overcome the crisis through solidarity among their member countries rather than their own self-determination. At the same time, the countries in favor of refugees tried to convince Middle-Eastern European countries suffering from aging due to declining fertility rates and the widespread export of skilled engineers to Western Europe that refugees with a high level of education will be able to become a new growth engine rather than depriving them of their jobs. (The Economist, 2015)

On the other hand, Poland, Hungary, and other Central and Eastern European countries argue the current EU refugee policy (Germany-led) is unrealistic and requires too much sacrifice and obligation to the Member States. In other words, although the situation in the Member States of the EU is all different, they are unilaterally forcing the reference point in one standard. For example, Germany, actively accepting refugees, is the country with the third highest percentage of immigrants in the world, including the immigrants about 12% of the total population.[3] Therefore, it is argued that social understanding of refugee acceptance is very high. Also, as of 2017, Germany’s unemployment rate is as low as 3.6% (CEIC, 2017) and the declining skilled labor force due to aging population and low birth rate, is also a necessity to replenish the labor force through inflow of refugees. However, the situation in Eastern Europe is different from that in Western. There are still many countries that are suffering from high unemployment rates and financial self-reliance is weak compared to advanced countries in Western Europe. In addition, many countries in the Middle-Eastern Europe still have conflicts and racial issues in the past, and the public opinion on refugee acceptance due to the lack of immigrants is also negative. Therefore, they argued if some advanced countries, such as Germany, ignore the situation of the Middle-Eastern Europe and claim the refugee quota system on their own, without consideration of the situation of other regions, it will provide a source of serious social problems.

In addition, the ability of the Middle-Eastern European countries to exceed their limitations is one of the reasons for their opposition to the relocation scheme. In the case of Hungary, which is the land of Syrian refugees among Central European countries, had received more than 170,000 asylum applications arrived by the end of 2015, (BBC, 2016) This has led to serious social and financial deterioration to a serious level. Even though Middle-Eastern European countries are gradually increasing their economies of scale through industrialization, they have been in the EU for 10 more or less 10 years, it can be argued that this is an overwhelming situation. Furthermore, they pointed out that the temporary refugee allocation cannot be a fundamental solution to the refugee crisis and that the powerful nations should take practical solutions. In fact, the struggle between the Syrian dictatorship and the anti-government forces that have resisted it has already become more complicated as support forces from Russia, China-America and Saudi Arabia have been long-termed with their own weapons support. Plus, it can be a trend that is continuing to increase as the number of refugees passing through Europe increases, nobody can say that the limit is the limit. They repeat passing refugees to each other,[4] and as a result, mutual denunciations have also heated up, deepening the conflict between neighboring countries.

These countries, in particular, demanded that the EU completely block the so-called ‘Balkan Route,’ which has become a major route for refugees to Europe since 2015. They put pressure saying if the EU does not launch it, they will implement it on their own, and made it closed in March 2016. In addition, the EU strongly opposed shifting the external borders of non-EU countries to the border with Greece, not the Greek coastline but the Greek northern land, namely Macedonia or Bulgaria.[5] This claim has been welcomed by Balkan European countries, such as Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria, who are experiencing serious social and economic crises due to refugee problems, as they are now on the Balkan route of mass influx of refugees. Actually, in the background of these claims, distrust of Greece takes a big part. They say it would not have brought such a serious situation if the Greece well-managed the refugees arrived in its coast based on the ‘Dublin Treaty,’ which set the principle of national order to deal with asylum application. They have believed that Greece has helped these refugees to enter the EU addressing the difficulty of mass refugee problems and has either neglected or guided these refugees to go through the Balkan route and into the EU. Thus, it was claimed that Greece’s overland border blocking and the establishment of new external borders are inevitable in order to prevent mass refugee inflows to the Central and Eastern European countries that follow the Balkan route geographically.[6] However, when the Balkan route was closed down in 2016,[7] it was heavily criticized by many scholars as the European Institutions exalted this agreement as an instrument for putting an end to the refugee crisis, but afterwards, none of them took authorship and the responsibility for this statement (Sardelic, 2017).

Meantime, at the EU level, it was necessary to control the refugee inflow rate and seek cooperation from Turkey. The EU has offered a remedy for providing 6 billion euros in economic support, a visa waiver for Turkish citizens, facilitating Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, and acceptance of a Syrian refugee from Turkey whenever they accept one of the ineligible refugees who are repatriated from Greece. That is to say, Turkey received a long-awaited visa exemption and subscription negotiations on the condition that non-eligible refugees who do not meet the refugee qualification criteria are allowed to “re-enter” Turkey from Europe as a transit country. The EU says the EU-Turkey agreement is aimed at an important moral practice goal. In other words, by screening camouflaged refugees, Europe will be able to receive the real refugees who have gone on the journey of life to avoid the reality and possibility of political persecution. (Economist, 2015). Because Turkey is bordered by Syria and Iraq, where refugees are most prevalent, and the East Mediterranean Sea route is the fastest route to Europe, so coordination with Turkey was an inevitable choice to do.

But this negotiation with Turkey faced many criticisms. It is pointed out that there are ethical problems in negotiations with Turkey, which tend to be violent and non-humanitarian in their relations with the Kurd. That means, it can help consolidate the dictator’s power base by recognizing the legitimacy of the authoritarian regime in Europe’s values and actions to solve the troublesome problems in Europe. In particular, the visa waiver issue has been criticized because the EU was just engrossed in reducing the number of refugees and as it has nothing to do with humanitarian principles or treatment of refugees. But the EU-Turkey agreement appears to be in force. After the EU-Turkey agreement, the number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to Europe has sharply decreased. Besides, the European refugee crisis is currently undergoing a settling due to the agreement between the EU and Turkey, but it is hard to know how long it will last. First, it is unclear whether the agreement between the EU and Turkey will continue. As a condition of the EU-Turkey agreement, Turkey must legislate and implement many reforms. It is uncertain whether Turkey can and will meet the needs of the EU. If Turkey’s reforms do not meet the expectations of the EU, the EU will not be able to implement the visa exemption proposed by Turkey as a carrot and the resumption of EU accession negotiations as scheduled, and Turkey will likely respond by opening the way for refugees.

The bigger problem is that the EU does not have enough time and cards to persuade its member countries of the border blockade. The EU, which is fiercely contested over the direction of refugee policy with Middle Eastern European countries due to mass refugees from the Middle East, has been troubled by the crisis of the Brexit (United Kingdom out from the EU) and the possibility of the collapse of the European zone. But there is growing concern over whether the Schengen Treaty can be maintained as it is now, as the conflict of interests within the EU member states is sharply divided and the leadership of the major member states is weakening. It is difficult to rule out the possibility that the EU’s core Schengen treaty will collapse and that the EU member states could lead to a huge economic loss, possibly triggering a disintegration of the EU itself.


Often when looking at refugees from Europe, refugee problems are sometimes approached in terms of human resources, not humanitarian, but I argue that it is not right to analyze refugees from the point of view of human resources. It reflects the view that although Europe has taken on the problems of other continents but they can use them as a resource for the development of the European Union as well as the intention to resolve the economic downturn in Europe based on refugee labor and taxes. Therefore, I would like to suggest to consider the meaning of accepting refugees as historical moment when two civilizations coexist in Europe. To this end, the perception that two civilizations are essential partners for mutual development should be fully considered. Although the problem of refugees is in the process of seemingly tragic modern history, the consensus of historical awareness cooperation in balancing the exchange between Europe and other civilizations will be important.

In addition, it is important to establish a social consensus on the refugee problem. For this purpose, it is important to have a positive attitude to actively participate in and understand the refugee problem as their own issue. In addition, people’s attitude and consideration for refugees should not be limited to small acts of humanity, but to the level of helping them and causing social structural changes that can be accepted as members of the community. At the social level, we should make efforts to secure and maintain the soundness of the society itself while at the same time utilizing more active acceptance policies in the human rights dimension. Citizenship ethics education for social integration as well as sophisticated policy planning should be done together. The attitude of the developed countries that have the capacity to accommodate the refugees may be caused by the refusal of the refugees and the disgusting tendencies that are prevalent in the civil society, but also there are a few political movements encourage anti-immigrants atmosphere – such as populism. It is a well-known fact that some discomfort may arise when accommodating refugees, but the social atmosphere that encourages fear beyond it is a challenge to be overcome. Accepting a certain part of the refugees is a recognition of a new way of life, which means that there is some change in the existing way of life. However, this should strive to expand soundness in all aspects of institutions and consciousness so that it does not threaten the current lifestyle, culture, or identity of the society.

It is also necessary for the refugees who receive help to form and practice their own sense of responsibility. In some parts of Europe, which accept refugees, the voice of concern is increasing due to the unethical conduct of refugees. Some cases of refugee applicants committing crimes such as sexual violence, robbery, theft, etc can impair the view of refugees and at the same time worsen public opinion regarding the local identity of refugees. Therefore, refugees should practice their own responsible behavior norms, and follow their own responsibility to better fulfill their responsibilities. In addition, active and in-depth consideration and efforts should be made to resolve the causes of the refugees’ home country. It would be great if the refugees who are directly related to their home countries have interests in their home countries’ issues after the resettlement and are engaged in the refugee research of the settlement countries.


Immigration is a huge and complex phenomenon, so it is powerful enough to change the overall picture of society. That’s why we cannot find a solution by comparing what the related costs and benefits are, but the outcome depends on how we deal with it. In particular, European refugee issues are closely linked to human rights issues in that they basically escape from violence. Therefore, it may be possible to discuss the theory of convergence by suggesting a new type of larger community such as ‘Global Citizenship Ethics’ or to introduce a third ethical framework. At the national level, the refugee problem needs to be regarded as a problem of the social community and its members. Refugees themselves need a responsibility to actively resolve the causes of their problems.

In summary, Germany, as a representative of Western Europe, is relatively moderate in its policy of accepting refugees, because in the German society the elements are implicitly contained with a wide range of issues and developments; historical consciousness and tolerance that reflects the Nazi’s mistakes, well-established educational and political institutions that have supported humanitarian respect. However, the eastern European countries have a tough stance on the refugee problem. The influx of refugees with different religions and cultures is a kind of cultural shock because of the deprivation due to the relatively poor environment and the social environment maintaining the religious and ethnic homogeneity. And there were no colonial histories that dominate others, unlike some Western European countries, they do not intervene in the internal affairs of old colonial countries, so there is no sense of responsibility or duty based on historical consciousness, And the fact that there are cases in which nationalism is promoted with a narrow nationalism.

I think it is reasonable that the efforts of the EU to accept refugees have no meaning without the solution of root cause of the refugee crisis, which is claimed by the Central and Eastern European countries. These countries have a realistic view claiming that the EU’s refugee allocation is not a fundamental solution to the refugee crisis. In particular, Syria, which can be considered a representative country of the refugee crisis, could not be able to make further progress unless a solution is sought, such as a real agreement between the US and Russia, I argue. However, it is also true that it is difficult for the EU to provide a fundamental solution. Because if the EU implement the EU asylum rules it can overburden Southern European states, whereas if the EU ignore these rules they can lay a burden on Northern member states (Trauner, 2016). Because of the acute conflict of interests within the EU member states over the refugee issue and the weakening of the leadership of the main member states, we cannot be sure whether the ‘Schengen Treaty’ presupposes free movement in the region can be maintained as it is now, or it will bring new challenges to integration and maintenance. This is the reason we all need to work together to solve the more fundamental causes of ethical issues.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook and Guidelines on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, December 2011, HCR/1P/4/ENG/REV. 3, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f33c8d92.html

https://www.ceicdata.com/en/indicator/germany/unemployment-rate http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimatesgraphs.shtml?3g3




Scipioni, Marco. 2017. ‘Failing forward in EU migration policy? EU integration after the 2015 asylum and migration crisis’, Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2017.1325920

Trauner, F. 2016. ‘Asylum policy: the EU’s ‘crises’ and the looming policy regime failure’, Journal of European Integration 38:3, pp.311-325.

Sardelic, Julija, The Western Balkan Route: A New Form of Forced Migration Governance in Europe? https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/the-western-balkan-route-a-new-form-of-forced-migration-governance-in-europe/

The Economist, 2015. “More vacancies than visitors: Eastern Europe may not like refugees but needs them more than other countries”, https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21665031-eastern-europe-may-not-refugees-needs-them-more-other-countries-more-vacancies

The UN Refugee Agency, 2015m “UNHCR chief issues key guidelines for dealing with Europe’s refugee crisis”, http://www.unhcr.org/55e9793b6.html  ; Amnesty International, (2015), “Europe’s response: Face-saving not a life-saving operation” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/04/face-saving-not-a-lifesaving-operation

Riley M. Townsend, European Migrant Crisis (NY: Lulu.com of Lulu press Inc., 2015), pp. 1-9.

Jess McHugh, “How the EU Migrant Crisis is Fueling Right-Wing Politicians and Refugee Policies in Europe”, International Business Times (august 27, 2015)

Christof Roos and Natascha Zaun, “The global economic crisis as a critical juncture? The crisis’s impact on migration movement and policies in Europe and the US.”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42-10 (July, 2016), pp. 1579-1589.

UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf  ; http://www.unhcr.or.kr/unhcr/html/001/001001001002.html

The Independent, “Aylan Kurdi: Syrian boy’s family took deadly voyage after Canada refused refugee application” http://www.indepedent.co.uk/news/world/europe/aylan-syrian-boys-family-took-deadly-voyage-after-canada-refused-refugee-application-10483968.html  

Access to European Union Law, “The Schengen acquis”  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:42000A0922(01)  

Access to European Union Law, “REGULATION (EU) No 604/2013” As Known As “Dublin Regulation”,http://eur-lexeuropa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/;jsessionid=jHNITp3HLjpw8mqGbQSpZh1VWpjCyVQq14Hgcztw4pbfSQZffnrn!557467765?uri=CELEX:32013E0604  

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[1] The highest number of first time asylum applicants in the third quarter of 2017 was registered in Germany (with over 46 000 first time applicants, or 28 % of all applicants in the EU Member States). (Asylum quarterly report, 2017)

[2] However, the open-door migration policy of Angela Merkel seems to be slightly changed to aim for a cap on Germany’s refugee intake, opposed to her previous rejections. (CNN, 2017) http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/09/europe/germany-upper-limit-refugees/index.html

[3] UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2017 Revision”, can be seen here: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimatesgraphs.shtml?3g3

[4] Grierson and Weaver, Croatia moves refugees to Hungarian border – as it happened, The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/sep/18/refugee-crisis-hungary-builds-border-fence-with-croatia-live-updates#block-55fbf9b1e4b0c46d88e03183

[5]  Independent, “Refugee crisis: Eastern Europe opposes Angela Merkel’s policy on asylum seekers”, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/refugee-crisis-eastern-europe –opposes-angela-merkel-s-policy-on-asylum-seekers-a6877916.html.; DW, “Visegrad Group opposes Germany’s refugee policy”, http://www.dw.com/en/visegrad-group-opposes-germanys-refugee-policy/a-19048816.

[6] Radio Praha. “Visegrad leaders debate back-up plan for migrant crisis”. http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/visegrad-leaders-debateback-up-plan- for-migrant-crisis.

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/09/balkans-refugee-route-closed-say-european-leaders


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