Europe’s struggle with asylum seekers and illegal migration

Recent studies by the International Organization for Migration show that Europe has become the most dangerous destination for migrants in the world and the Mediterranean Sea, the most dangerous place for border-crossing [1]. Such report is based on the fact that migrants have been storming the European shore everyday and the subsequent action taken by the European Union that follows the migration influx in order to stem the human tide. Migrants and asylum seekers have been arriving in European Union countries from Africa, Central Asia, Middle East, and West Asia are posing complex challenges not only to its leaders but even to their economy. This migration is simply understood as a ‘cross-border movement’ [2]. As grave as the situation is for the European Union, ‘humanity at stake for the migrants’ as their own countries has made them to migrate to other countries.

Endless issues such as political upheaval, civil war, religious turmoil and sectarian issues have made migrants and refugees to pour into Europe. ‘Normal life’ without death and ammunitions shattering their homes is something that Western Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East regions have not experienced since the Islamic State (IS) [3] took over their regions. The climax of the horrible condition of the migrants has been signified in the recent ‘lifeless body of a young child in red shirt and dark shorts’ washed ashore in the Turkish beach. The situation not only took the media by storm but has galvanized public interest towards the migrant crisis that have been building up for quite some time now [4].

Exploring the reasons for migration

Statistically, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that more than 350,000 migrants (detected) have crossed over to various European Union countries from January to August 2015 [5]. This statistical figure does not include those who have entered the European Union countries undetected. In Western Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East regions, the reasons for migration mainly emanates from trying to escape the war. For instance, in Syria the Civil war which started as peaceful protests has quickly turned itself into one of the most barbaric and bloodiest conflict in the region [6]. Conditionally, among the migrants, Syrians are the highest in number. Many of whom are fleeing the country to escape the brutality meted out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As for the migrants coming from Libya, they have been known for fleeing the country since it has been in chaos [7]. In this case, European Union itself is to be blamed. European Union and the World leaders committed series of political plunder by interfering in Libya (overthrowing Gaddafi), which has created immense chaos and displacement among Libyan civilians. Migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo (mainly Roma) and Africa are fleeing their poverty stricken countries with no opportunity for economic development and abuses of their human rights.

The routes that the migrants follow normally are the Western Balkan, Eastern Mediterranean and Central Mediterranean routes. It is reported that the migrants often suffer from abuse in the hands of the traffickers, paying large amount of money for transport, undergoing arduous and hazardous journey, often travelling in flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats which often result in death [8].

Why migrate to Europe?

Migration cartoon by Palestinian Artist Mahmoud Abbas

Cartoon by Palestinian Artist Mahmoud Abbas (Source:  Donna Abu-Nasr, Vivian Nereim, and Deema Almashabi, ‘Syria’s Refugees Feel More Welcome in Europe than in the Gulf’, Bloomberg Business, September 2015)

The Gulf States– the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have been continuously criticized for lack of support for migrants over the past few months. They have been under critique for whether their conscience has died or how their wealth cannot be used to help humanitarian cause [9]. A Palestinian cartoonist Mahmoud Abbas based in Sweden recently ridiculed these countries through a cartoon by showing refugees being shown back to shark infested sea.

Migration cartoon by Saudi artist Abdullah Jaber

Cartoon by Saudi artist Abdullah Jaber (Source: Abu-Nasr, Nereim, and Almashabi, ‘Syria’s Refugees Feel More Welcome in Europe than in the Gulf)

In another case, Saudi artist Abdullah Jaber mocked the Gulf countries by displaying barbed wire securing an Arab man against refugees.

Having said that, the Gulf countries have their own reason in not receiving migrants. These states are not signatories to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, making it hard for them to go beyond protocol and accept migrants and refugees [10]. The Gulf States are becoming ‘wary of politically vocal Arabs being led into their countries which might influence other passive groups’ [11]. Over the years, war in the Middle East has made them to take in many displaced Palestinians, Lebanese and Yemenis, slowly becoming naturalized in the Gulf States [12]. After the emergence of Islamic State, the Kuwaitis have granted 120,000 Syrian residents permit to live; the UAE is funding refugee camp in Jordan (as much as 1.98 billion dirhams); and the Saudis and Qataris are funding Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. On the part of the migrants, they do not opt to go to Gulf since Europe is more enticing for them and the process of migration is costlier to go to Gulf States [13].

Why don’t the World leaders stem the source?

Public opinion has been largely swayed by what the World leaders are doing and why they don’t stem the source to quell migration crisis. With regard to West, Central and Middle East Asia, urgent military action is needed to quell the ISIS issue by World leaders. But no agreement as to how it should be dealt with has been reached till date [14]. In the June 2015 G7 Summit, American President Obama emphatically stated that the American countries still does not have complete strategy to defeat ISIS ten months after the American-led intervention against ISIS in Iraq [15]. But although such strategy is possible, the United Nations Organization’s Security Council and its Article 1 (2); Article 2(4); and Article 2 (7) does not simply allow the use of force on another country without proper context; while advocating equal rights and self-determination for every country [16]. It is therefore difficult to interfere in domestic affairs and make it an international issue, which is making the European Union states to struggle in search of solution in dealing with the unprecedented migrant surge in their countries. However, international powers mainly the EU are doing their own share in helping the migrants.

What are European countries doing about the issue?

In the beginning of October 2014, European Union suspended migrant rescue mission and in early April, 2015, the EU came up with ten points to stem the human tide [17] but migrants continued to pour in. Since they could not stem the tide, they need to find the source and quell it. However, International protocol and humanitarian needs have made them to open up to the migrants.

Migrants distribution based on Population and wealth proposed by EU

Migrants distribution based on Population and wealth proposed by EU (Source: Gregor Aisch and Sarah Almukhtar, ‘Seeking a Fair Distribution of Refugees in Europe’, New York, USA, The New York Times, September 2015.)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) is calling for urgent reinforcement and help from all regions in terms of personnel and resources to help the migrants [18]. On the European Union front, organization like the Frontex has been responsible for taking care of the European Border Management system [19]. As European external border Force, the Frontex is known for carrying out most of the migration related issues, like rescue, registration, etc. The European Union countries have recently decided to triple the funding of Frontex, which comes to around Euros 120m, but Frontex has still not received their share of pledges for this funding. Officially, the European Union is persuading its members to take as many as 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans in each country from present and spanning to the next two years, depending on wealth, population, etc. But owing to many complexities, migrants are not received fairly across EU countries to date (Refer Figure III and IV). Other organizations like the Austrian Red Cross have also been actively engaging in helping the migrants [20]. It is reported that Germany has by far received the most number of migrants and it is expected to hit 800,000 by the end of September. Turkey has accepted 1.7 million refugees, reportedly from Syria and Pakistan. While Iran has accepted several thousands from Afghanistan and Iraq [21]. Other countries like Austria, United Kingdom (UK), and Greece’s office have been flooded with asylum seekers’ application. Since countries such as Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, have rejected the European Union quotas for asylum seekers [22], over the past few days, UK, Austria and Germany has been stormed by migrants, making these countries the primary target for refugees [23].

Distribution of Migrants across EU countries

Distribution of Migrants across EU countries (Source: Aisch and Almukhtar, ‘Seeking a Fair Distribution of Refugees in Europe.’)

Accepting migrants in a gloomy economy

With such predicament, the European Union countries (28) have been consistently trying to harmonize their asylum policy. In order to not commit mistake, European Union have been taking serious stand on this grave situation like fair distribution across the European Union countries based on economic strength, population, etc. However, since the economic climate in these countries is still gloomy, they are wary of foreign workers flooding their countries. The fact is many Europeans themselves are out of a job and to champion the economic cause of the poor migrants pose burden for them. They are thus divided on how to share this refugee burden. The tide of migration is expected to become more aggressive in the coming days; but with fair strategies, European Union maybe able to deal with the issues, or the International leaders may finally take the UN protocol in their hands and try to stem the roots of migrants majority area (Syria) through another war against the Islamic State.


  1. Jeanne Park, ‘Europe’s Migration Crisis’, Council on Foreign Relations, April 2015.
  2. Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, (Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 2012).
  3. Islamic State often refers to either The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), etc.
  4. Anne Barnard and Karam Shoumali, ‘Image of Drowned Syrian, Aylan Kurdi, 3, Brings Migrant Crisis Into Focus’, Istanbul, The New York Times, September 2015.
  5. UNHCR, ‘Migrant arrivals in Europe top 100,000 in 2015 – UN Eefugee Agency’, United Nations-DPI/NMD – UN News Service Section, UN New Center, June 2015.
  6. Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, ‘Syria crisis: Gulf States should open their doors to Syrian refugees’, International Business Times, September 2015; BBC, ‘Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum? – BBC News’, BBC News, September 2015.
  7. BBC, ‘Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum? – BBC News.’
  8. UNHCR, ‘Migrant arrivals in Europe top 100,000 in 2015 – UN Eefugee Agency’; BBC, ‘Why is EU struggling with migrants and asylum? – BBC News.’
  9. Al-Qassemi, ‘Syria crisis: Gulf States should open their doors to Syrian refugees’; Abu-Nasr, Nereim, and Almashabi, ‘Syria’s Refugees Feel More Welcome in Europe than in the Gulf.’
  10. Al-Qassemi, ‘Syria crisis: Gulf States should open their doors to Syrian refugees’; Amira Fathalla, ‘Migrant crisis: Why Syrians do not flee to Gulf states’, Middle East, BBC News, September 2015.
  11. Al-Qassemi, ‘Syria crisis: Gulf States should open their doors to Syrian refugees.’
  12. Al-Qassemi, ‘Syria crisis: Gulf States should open their doors to Syrian refugees.’
  13. Abu-Nasr, Nereim, and Almashabi, ‘Syria’s Refugees Feel More Welcome in Europe than in the Gulf’; Charles Recknagel, ‘Here’s why rich Arab Gulf states won’t welcome Syrian refugees’, Business Insider, 2015.
  14. Michael Wilner, ‘Without Iran, world leaders tackle ISIS – Middle East’, Washington D.C., The Jerusalem Post, September 2014; Saenz and Siegel, ‘President Obama on ISIS Fight: “We Don”t Yet Have a Complete Strategy’’.
  15. Saenz and Siegel, ‘President Obama on ISIS Fight: “We Don”t Yet Have a Complete Strategy’’.
  16. The United Nations, ‘Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council’, United Nations.
  18. UNHCR, ‘Migrant arrivals in Europe top 100,000 in 2015 – UN Eefugee Agency.’
  19. Frontex, ‘European Union Agency.’
  20. BBC, ‘Migrants arrive in Austria from Hungary after border move’, BBC News, September 2015.
  21. Branko Milanovic, ‘Five Reasons Why Migration Into Europe Is A Problem With No Solution’, Social History, June 2015.
  22. BBC, ‘Migrants arrive in Austria from Hungary after border move.’
  23. Patrick Kingsley, ‘We can’t stop the flow of migrants to Europe. Rehousing them is our only option’, The Guardian, July 2015.

Pamkhuila Shaiza

Research analyst at Project Guru
Shaiza worked as a Lecturer inKannur University, Kerala before, but after deeming it as boring and monotonous work, she turned herself to writing. She is an enthusiastic writer on 'entomophagy'.

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