The Syrian war has been going on for four years, but only in 2015 has Europe woken up to the flow of refugees.
So why now? It is hard to find definitive reasons, but conversations with Syrians across the migration trail and a survey of recently available data suggest a mixture of reasons.
First, the war is not getting any better. That has the dual effect of prompting more Syrians to leave their country and causing Syrians in exile in Turkey to give up hope of returning home.
Second, Turkey is not a country for people to stay in the long-term. It has been more receptive than most, taking in about 2 million Syrian refugees. But Syrians don’t have the right to work there legally, so it is not a place to settle.
Also, the recent electoral setbacks for the AKP party, perceived as being most in favour of helping Syrian refugees, has made many Syrians nervous about Turkey’s political future.
Third, U.N. bodies working with millions of refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon are complaining that they are running out of money, making camp conditions harsher and life more untenable for Syrians who live on their own but still depend on U.N. subsidies.
The UNHCR reports that its appeals for cash are underfunded. The rich world has given to UNHCR funds almost 40 per cent short of what it needs.
And these figures are just for the Syria region. In Eastern Europe, a conduit for thousands of refugees seeking respite in Europe, the finances are even more damning. A UNHCR request for £14 million to deal with the specific problems of conduit countries like Italy, Hungary and Bosnia has only reached 9 per cent of the target.
A fourth point is that people have finally saved up enough money. It is expensive to pay for your family to cross to Greece and then work your way up through Europe. Depending on how many smugglers you use, every individual might spend about $3,000 to get to Germany.
Fifth, there is now a known route. People have long trekked through the Balkans to the EU, but Syrians did not use to be among them. That changed late last summer, when the first few Syrians found the Balkan route to Europe.
And sixth, the crisis is only a crisis because of the European response to it. EU countries have spent all year debating and procrastinating about an appropriate solution to Europe’s biggest refugee movement since the World War II.
And lastly, to put things in perspective: Europe may be quailing at the numbers trying to get in, but it is as nothing compared to the numbers that Syria’s neighbours have been dealing with.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2015