More than a million refugees and migrants reached European shores in 2015, and many more continue to trickle in as the world witnesses one of its worst global refugee crisis in decades. This unprecedented migration of people, mainly from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, to Europe and the West created deep divisions in the European Union (EU) over how to resettle these asylum-seekers and assimilate them into their societal fabric. A vast number of people travelled thousands of miles in dingy, dilapidated boats through rough seas, while others made their way over land mostly via Albania and Turkey.
In the process, many lost their lives, some afflicted with diseases, some in transit, while others died due to capsizing of overcrowded boats. Undeterred by the massive loss of lives, more and more people are still making desperate bids to reach Europe. As the humanitarian crisis worsened in 2015, one particular death, among a deluge of others, made global headlines in September 2015.
When the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish background Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on the Turkish border, it was decidedly the tipping point in the refugee crisis, the news and photos of which spread across social media platforms like wildfire prompting swift international responses. In August this year, another picture of a bloodied Syrian boy Omar Daqneesh’s face covered with dust after heavy bombardment in Aleppo, was a stark reminder of the costs of war in Syria. But the grim truth is: every other day there’s a picture similar to Omar Daqneesh in Syria.
According to UNHCR, approximately 135,711 asylum-seekers reached European shores since the start of 2016. By July this year, this number swelled to around 258,186, according to data released by The International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Nearly 370,000 have arrived in Europe alone in 2016 by sea. Although the total number of migrant and refugee arrivals have dipped, the EU is still in a firefighting mode to resolve the resettlement issues.
The main trigger to this unprecedented crisis is the 5-year-old Syrian civil war, which shows no signs of easing even as global powers attempt to cripple the movement of rebel militants and the Islamic State. Since the civil war began, more than four million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while approximately 7.6 million have been displaced internally. Syrians had already endured a protracted 4-year conflict. The possibility, now a reality, of a fifth-year of fighting was too much to bear. This is clearly the main driver of migration.
Meanwhile, the widespread violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea have also prompted a significant number of people to look for safe haven elsewhere. The majority of refugees are, however, from Syria, as per data released by the United Nations. Even if one questions the veracity of the data, it’s quite clear that Syrians form the majority of people arriving at European shores.
The flow of refugees from Syria into neighbouring countries started in 2011 as many crossed over into Lebanon due to heavy fighting in the city of Talkalakh, according to UN. Within a few months it shifted to Turkey and Jordan as fighting intensified. The influx continued into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon in 2012. In the beginning of 2013, thousands of refugees pour into Iraq. In of its TV shows, the BBC describes ‘biblical scenes’ of displaced people entering Kurdistan, with over 20,000 crossing over in a span of few days. A watershed moment occurred in 2013, when 16 western countries, including USA, make a pledge for resettlement opportunities for asylum-seekers. In 2013, UK declared that it will take vulnerable Syrian refugees and provide emergency sanctuary to them. The biggest refugee crisis started in June 2014 driven by the Islamic State in Syria, where around 5 lakh people fled Mosul. This is also the time when the IS declared Iraq and Syria as its ‘caliphate’.
2015 was also the year when some European countries such as Hungary and Greece started to repel incoming refugees from entering their respective countries by land and boats. As refugees breached wire fences erected by Hungary and reached Germany, the latter became the first European country to offer asylum to Syrians. This prompted a bigger wave of arrivals, as they no longer feared being arrested in Hungary. By the end of 2015, more than a million refugees and migrants reached Europe by sea. According to UNHCR data, from the millions who arrived in Europe, over 4,000 were feared drowned and about half of them crossing the Mediterranean Sea were Syrians. The total number of refugee and migrants arrivals took place by sea (1,011,700) as against 34,900 by land in 2015, as per data released by The International Organization for Migration (IOM).
According to data published by Eurostat, Germany followed by Hungary to became the two biggest European nations to receive the highest number of asylum applications by the end of 2015. As a result, tensions in the EU have been simmering for a while due to the disproportionate burden faced by a few countries, notably Greece, Italy and Hungary.
As more and more refugees die in desperate attempts to reach Europe more than ever before, political leaders across the world turn a blind eye to this crisis that is now 6 years in the making.