A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany in early September 2015. Wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov/cc

Q&A: Refugee Migration Crisis

Why does Hungary prevent asylum seekers from going to Germany?

According to the European Union’s Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers are expected to register at the first EU country they reach. In this case, it is Hungary. The main disadvantage of this system is that it unfairly places a disproportionate amount of responsibility on frontline states like Greece and Italy. Greece has been overloaded with applications since hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers first arrived in the Greek Islands across the Mediterranean Sea. Germany has suspended the Dublin rule and will consider asylum cases passing through other EU countries. Finland has stopped sending people back to Greece.

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany in early September 2015. Wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov/cc
A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany in early September 2015. (Wikimedia/Mstyslav Chernov/cc)

Why do refugees want to go to Germany?

Once asylum seekers have been registered, they will wait to receive a decision. According to Eurostat, the highest number of positive asylum decisions in 2014 was in Germany (48,000), then Sweden (33,000), Italy and France (each 21,000), the U.K. (14,000) and the Netherlands (13,000). These six countries made up 81% of the positive decisions that the EU issued that year. The likelihood of being granted refugee status in Germany is the main reason asylum seekers want to lodge their claims there.

Asylum seekers presently stuck at a Budapest train station say they consider Hungary to be similar to Serbia and Macedonia, “having a thin veneer of prosperity, but being fundamentally relatively poor and still developing. And Greece, though developed, is in economic crisis.”

With the advancement of Internet and social media, asylum seekers can research other important factors such as the quality of the refugee camps, the length of the process, the level of freedom, language and how empathetic locals are toward refugees.

What is the process?

To gain refugee status, asylum seekers must prove they are fleeing persecution and would face harm or even death if sent back to their country of origin. While waiting for the decision, which may take months or years, asylum seekers have the right to food, first aid and shelter in a reception center. Also, asylum seekers are supposed to be granted the right to work within nine months of arrival.

They may be granted refugee status on the first try (first instance) or, if denied, can appeal the decision. According to Eurostat, 45% of first-instance asylum decisions were positive. Nearly 104,000 people received refugee status in the EU last year, nearly 60,000 subsidiary protection status (do not qualify as refugees but will be protected) and more than 20,000 authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons (do not qualify as refugees but will be taken care of). If an asylum seeker is denied, he/she is expected to make an arrangement to leave the country, or will be forced to do so on a return flight.

What about other countries?

More than 4 million people have fled Syria. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,  more than 1.9 million have gone to Turkey, more than 600,000 to Jordan and 1 million to Lebanon (one refugee for every four Lebanese).

In total, approximately 600,000 asylum seekers arrived in Europe in 2014 — a continent with a population of roughly 742 million people, which means there is 1 refugee for every 1,200 people. Although the number will be higher this year, some reports in the media are creating the idea that the refugee wave is a tsunami, while anti-refugee protesters call asylum seekers “swarms,” “virus” or “parasites” — labels that are untrue and inhumane.

According to UNHCR data, in the first seven months of 2015, there were 126,232 Syrian asylum seekers lodging applications in the EU: 39,254 in Germany, 38,002 in Serbia and Kosovo, and 10,847 in Hungary. There are also a large number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan (77,731), Iraq (61,463), Albania (33,767), Eritrea (21,631) and Pakistan (17,021).

The number of submitted applications does not correspond proportionally with the number of those granted refugee status. A table published by the Guardian shows that Bulgaria or Denmark are more likely to approve applications rather than Hungary or France, which explains why many asylum seekers do not want to register in Hungary or France.

Neighboring oil-rich Gulf States have not taken any Syrian refugees. They are receiving increasing criticism from other countries and are being pressured to show more sympathy to their fellow Muslims. Officially, Syrians may apply for a work permit in the Gulf, but the process is expensive and many people believe that unwritten restrictions make it difficult for Syrians to actually get a visa.

Why is Germany so generous?

Most of the Syrian refugees cannot speak the language, come from a very different culture, in many cases, are terribly traumatized and have limited financial capacity. They also need to be quickly employed, but their skills probably do not match with the labor market. Still, Germany doesn’t seem to mind: It is leading the chart and is expected to take 800,000 asylum seekers this year. One writer speculates that this relates to deep-rooted German psychology, as people are still shaken by the Nazis’ atrocities against the Jews. Syrians are the “new Jews.”

Germany is the most powerful and stable country in the EU, and has been a migrant economy since the mid-1960s. It is constantly in need of laborers, with up to 589,000 unfilled positions in July 2015.

Why are countries denying asylum seekers?

Apart from reasons listed above, there may be widespread Islamophobia in these countries, and government and public officials may be concerned that radical or terrorist elements will infiltrate into their countries as asylum seekers.

What is the solution?

Accepting more asylum seekers may not be sustainable. Such a solution may encourage the now 30,000 human traffickers in Europe to continue to prey on the life and money of asylum seekers by not offering them sufficient safety or abandoning them halfway. It is also difficult and ethically controversial to draw a hard line between war refugees who flee death and economic refugees who flee poverty. With the Islamic State group increasingly becoming more of an inspiration, IS-motivated radicals can mix in with innocent refugees and eventually sabotage the safety of the host country.

What European countries can do is to impose a higher quota based on various factors, including the gross domestic product, unemployment rate, population, etc. We should call on Gulf nations, Australia, New Zealand and developed countries in Asia to also open their doors to asylum seekers. However, the ultimate solution for this crisis was best expressed by a 13-year-old Syrian boy, who told the press while he and hundreds of others were prevented from boarding a train from Hungary to Germany: “Stop the war! Just stop the war in Syria.”

Check out how the Syrian refugee crisis is testing Islam’s concept of “Ummah.”

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  • About the autor
    Mai Nguyen-Phuong

    Mai Nguyen-Phuong is an Associate Professor at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands, teaching Middle Eastern studies and doing research on Intercultural Communication and Identity. Follow her at www.facebook.com/culturemove or www.culturemove.com

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