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The Immigration Crisis

European countries struggle with the surging number of migrants seeking asylum.

migrants in hungary
Migrants at a train station in Bicske, Hungary
Source: AP Photo/Petr David Josek

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During the summer of 2015, in increasing numbers, migrants began fleeing war and conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, and regions in Northern Africa. The Balkans route replaced the Mediterranean as the most traveled path by migrants. They headed for Western Europe, creating an immigration crisis for many European countries.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) projected that 3,000 people a day would attempt to cross the Balkans to reach Western Europe in the coming months. According to the UNHCR, during June 2015, 70,000 refugees entered Europe. That number increased to 107,500 in July. By Aug. 28, 2015, around 270,000 refugees had entered Europe, more than the total amount for 2014.

From January to June 2015, Germany received over 154,000 migrants seeking asylum, more than any other nation in the European Union, and a 79% increase over the same period in 2014. The German government estimated that 800,000 would seek asylum there by the end of 2015.

Europeans reacted to the immigration crisis in different ways. To halt the flow of migrants, a 109-foot razor-wire fence was built in Hungary along the border it shares with Serbia. In Germany, there were more than 500 attacks on homes meant for migrants in 2015, most on as-yet uninhabited shelters, but many targeted occupied hostels. In August, the bodies of 71 migrants were found near Vienna. In Rome, migrants were evacuated by police after a protest against them turned violent. Macedonia declared a temporary state of emergency while dealing with the increasing number of migrants passing through on their way to Western Europe.

On Sept. 14, 2015, European Union officials met to decide on how to respond to the crisis. However, no agreement was made. Officials could not agree on a proposal by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a plan that would give an additional 120,000 refugees asylum within the European Union countries.

On Oct. 25, 2015, the heads of 11 European Union states and 3 non-EU states met in Brussels to discuss the immigration crisis. It was decided that 100,000 more spaces would be made available in refugee centers and more police officers would be sent to Slovenia to control the influx of migrants. Slowly throughout the end of 2015, more and more countries began putting up walls to keep out illegal migrants. By the end of December 2015, the UNHCR reported that over 1.5 million migrants and refugees had entered Europe during 2015. It is estimated that roughly 4,000 migrants died before reaching Europe.

The beginning of 2016 saw numerous protests regarding the refugee policies throughout Europe, mainly in the countries who accepted the most migrants. In Germany, an alarming rise in crime rates after the acceptance of asylum seekers led directly to protests demanding the resignation of Angela Merkel, or for a drastic change in refugee policy. In March 2016, 3,000 people marched in Berlin to protest Germany’s "open door policy."

Other countries took different approaches to the refugees. While Sweden, Germany, and Greece accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants, countries like Denmark and Norway wanted to close their doors. On Jan. 26, 2016, Danish parliament passed a law that allowed the government to seize valuables worth 10,000 Kroner (1,500 USD), unless the valuables were of sentimental value. And in Feb. 2016, Norway announced they would be rejecting all future asylum seekers. These policies angered many human rights groups.

In March of 2016, the Balkan countries implemented the EU-Turkey deal, which effected the closing of the Balkan Route to stop the flow of illegal migrants from the Middle East into Europe. The shutdown allowed these countries to turn away all refugees who tried to cross the borders without valid passports or visas and send them back to Turkey. In return, Turkey would receive $3 billion from the EU to fund housing of the stranded refugees. In May 2016, the BBC reported that the EU-Turkey deal has helped slow the flow of illegal migrants; since the deal, one-fifth of the amount of migrants are arriving via Greece.

The number of people fleeing from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries continues to rise as unrest within the region grows. And while some European countries have shut their doors, some groups, such as the "No Borders Network," an activist group, protest against the growing border restrictions. In April 2016, the group protested the Brenner Pass restrictions between Austria and Italy; while they started peacefully, the protests ended with violence when Austrian police officers clashed with protesters. In the end, the Austrian government decided not to enhance the Brenner Pass border controls after Rome tightened restrictions, lowering the amount of illegal immigrants going through the pass.

In May 2016, the European Commission proposed to implement fines for the European Union countries who do not reach their quota for the number of refugees they accept. The fine would be 250,000 Euros for every refugee under the quota, with the the money generated going to countries like Greece and Italy who have been forced to take the most refugees because of their proximity to the refugee "front line." Countries who take in 150% of their "fair share" would be rewarded with a relocation scheme, to give the refugees to countries who haven’t met their quotas. The only exempt countries would be the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark.

Below are the number of asylum applications in ten European countries since 2011 as well as the number of first time applicants during the fourth quarter of 2014, the fourth quarter of 2015, and the second quarter of 2016.


Country Total Asylum Applications
Since 2011
First Time Applicants
Fourth Quarter 2014
First Time Applicants
Fourth Quarter 2015
First Time Applicants
Second Quarter 2016
Germany 1,071,464 55,310 162,535 186,745
France 304,861 15,515 23,475 17,835
Sweden 244,042 19,370 87,985 4,455
Italy 215,805 21,285 24,710 27,045
Hungary 153,958 27,925 860 14,915
United Kingdom 147,891 8,155 11,995 9,765
Austria 135,221 10,565 30,805 10,800
Switzerland 116,367 5,135 14,950 5,620
Belgium 88,931 4,090 15,865 2,630
Greece 55,824 2,115 3,005 12,015
by Jennie Wood and Katherine Schauer

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Bank, eurostat, BBC News