Could you give a general overview of the current refugee crisis?
There are about 15 million refugees throughout the world and more than 1.5 million asylum seekers. Contrary to a popular belief Europe has a relatively small percentage of refugees compared to countries in Asia and Africa: a mere 8% of the world’s refugees reside in Europe. The number of displaced people has dramatically increased since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, rising from 20 000 to 4.6 million in 2015. Most of them have fled to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon (1 million refugees out of a population of 4.4 million), Turkey (1.5 million) and Jordan (roughly 650 000). In Europe, refugees tend to settle in northern countries like Germany and Sweden. That said, according to the Dublin III agreements, many refugees have to apply for asylum in the country where they first set foot, which is generally Italy, Greece, Hungary or Bulgaria.
What have been the consequences for Europe?
The concentration of refugees in countries already affected by the economic crisis – e.g. Greece – has further weakened European solidarity with regard to refugees and border issues. Each Member State is responsible for its own border and refugee policy, but the problem is the influx of refugees is far from evenly distributed among countries. The economic burden is also lopsided. In addition, despite some progress made in establishing uniform hosting conditions, European countries by and large do not treat refugees the same.
How can EU Member States facilitate the integration of migrants?
Integration policies towards migrants are essential to guaranteeing their participation in the host country’s society and economy. While migrants constantly face hurdles for housing, language acquisition, recognition of diplomas and qualifications, and work permits, the situation is even worse for refugees. As opposed to migrants, they do not choose to leave their countries but rather are forced. And with the exception of Sweden, work permits are commonly not granted for asylum seekers. Once their refugee status has been accepted – which can take several months – they can enter the labour market.