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Stranded in uncertainty

Journey's end? Refugees and migrants arrive on safe shores. Photo: AFP

Journey's end? Refugees and migrants arrive on safe shores. Photo: AFP  

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The ongoing European refugee crisis has left innumerable people in the lurch. While some are seeking refuge, many are far from receiving asylum. A look at all that has come to a pass.

Remember the heartbreaking photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body being found on the shores of Greece? Sadly, he was not the only one to be drowned in an attempt to reach the safe shores of Europe. Many thousands — men, women and children — have lost their lives in this desperate attempt to flee the violence in their homeland.

Who are all these people? And where are they coming from? Though countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Liberia and Afghanistan are all in the throes of violent change, a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)report says that in 2014 alone, 13.9 million people “were displaced due to conflict or persecution”. Of this, more than half were from just three countries — Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Seeking asylum

These countries have been conflict zones for a few years and people have been fleeing them. So, why is Europe suddenly seeing an influx of refugees? So far what has happened is that people were seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, for example, have taken in 3.6 million Syrian refugees between them. But they can no longer cope, as international aid is also slowing down. With the civil war in Syria showing no sign of coming to an end (it started in 2011), the growth of the Islamic State (IS) is only adding to the turmoil. Another factor is that those who reach Europe encourage people left behind to make a bid for safety. And news items about countries trying to limit the number of refugees or border issues add to the confusion.

Another reason for the heavy migrations, is the season. With winter, Eastern Europe gets bitterly cold; so many are trying to use the mild summer months to make good their escape.

Most refugees are heading to Germany because German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, promised that those Syrians who reached the country could apply for asylum. By doing so, she negated the Dublin Regulation, according to which the country that the asylum seeker first enters should register the application. This rule has put an enormous strain on countries like Greece, Italy and Hungary, which are the ones that the refugees reach first. Hungary has now built a razor-wire fence on its borders and more recently sealed its border with Croatia to stop refugees from entering the country.

The European Union (EU) countries are divided about how to handle the crisis. Germany expects to receive over 80,000 refugees by the end of the year. By July, it had taken in close to 1,00,000 Syrians, while Sweden had accepted 65,000. While the EU’s President Jean-Claude Juncker suggested that each country should have a quota of how many refugees it would accept. “It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery in the world,” he said. “But we have to put it into perspective…This still represents just 0.11% of the EU population. In Lebanon refugees represent 25 per cent of the population.”

Heated debates marked the EU meeting on September 14, but there was no solution in sight. Countries like Poland, Czech Republic and Romania did not agree to the quota system. Slovakia announced that it would take in only those refugees who were Christian. Austria, Slovakia and The Netherlands have announced tightening of border movements, as did Germany, on September 13. This violates EU’s Schengen rules, which say that movement between EU countries should be free.

What is even sadder, apart from all this wrangling, is that those who make it to Europe safely have no guarantee that they can live a peaceful life. Many have fallen victim to human traffickers or are stuck in refugee camps. Is there a solution in sight? There doesn’t seem to be any, right now.

Who is a refugee? Who, a migrant?

According to the United Nations, “Any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” is a migrant. However, this word can include both those seeking asylum and those who want to move for better jobs or better living conditions.

A refugee is one fleeing conflict or persecution on the grounds of race, religion, political views or membership of a social group. The UN Refugee Convention of 1951 states that a refugee cannot be expelled or returned to a place where their life or freedom is under threat. Sheltering a refugee is a legal obligation. An asylum seeker is one whose refugee status has not been determined.

Hard journeys

Those fleeing from Syria and African countries usually head to the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. But they have to survive overcrowded boats, lack of safety measures, unsanitary conditions and more. Of late, however, people are trying to move overland through Europe. In August, over 70 people were found suffocated to death in a truck in Austria.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:17:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/where-will-the-refugees-go/article7818114.ece

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