The European Refugee Crisis
Forced migration caused by armed conflict or persecution is unpredictable . The Syrian crisis, which by October 2015 saw over four million refugees already registered outside Syria, certainly seemed to catch Europe off guard.
The vast majority of Syria’s refugees stay in the region—Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have each taken on more refugees than the entire EU, despite having far less capacity than Europe to deal with massive humanitarian disasters. Still, the crisis is testing the very principles upon which European integration has rested at a time when the security threats propagating from Syria to Europe—threats like the November 13 attacks in Paris—become very direct and real.
Within Europe, an important obstacle to resolving the crisis is the EU’s Dublin Regulation. Adopted to prevent “asylum shopping,” it has led to the incongruous situation in which border countries like Italy, Hungary or Greece first receive a disproportionate number of asylum seekers, half of whom ultimately end up registered in Germany and Sweden. As such, the Dublin system has proven itself poorly suited to the task. It should be replaced by another framework, one coordinated at the European level.
Policies to alleviate the pressure on individual member states need to involve greater solidarity across Europe. Yet the political will required for such solidarity is lacking in much of the EU, often due to electorates increasingly unwelcoming toward immigration. The result in many cases, such as in Calais or at Hungary’s border with Serbia, has been selective border enforcement. But this is not a solution—human smugglers will find other, riskier routes at higher economic and, sadly, humanitarian costs.
In the short term, the provision of large-scale humanitarian assistance, aid and education is crucial. In the long term, the UNHCR aims to offer refugees one of the three “durable solutions”: repatriation, resettlement in a third country, or integration into host societies. While resettlement and integration remain politically problematic, temporary solutions—such as refugee camps—prevail. Naturally, as the conflict in Syria endures, mass repatriation is not feasible either. Any true long term solutions would need to address the conflict first—a diplomatic as well as a military challenge.
THERE’S A WAY
For Europe, there are options in the meantime. In particular, the crisis has demonstrated an acute need for multiple layers of risk management, contingency and crisis plans . One encouraging example is Japan, where excellent crisis management plans are in place for earthquakes, which—like refugee crises—cannot be predicted with any reasonable foresight. Another example is the capital buffer requirements for banks put in place in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Indeed, coordination between countries, political and military alliances, international and non-governmental organisations needs to improve and special reserve capacity, specialised assets that remain mostly idle between crises, would need to be created. A public mandate for such capacity will require an open, possibly difficult public debate on the merits, and price, of keeping such reserves and capabilities. The price is not only economic: in this debate, the difficult questions of trade-offs between liberty and security are also unavoidable. But—like with earthquake preparedness or financial regulation—where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Jakub Bijak, ESRC Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton, UK
 Disney G, Wiśniowski A, Forster JJ, Smith PWF and Bijak J (2015) Evaluation of existing migration forecasting methods and models. Report for the Migration Advisory Committee. Southampton: ESRC Centre for Population Change. http://ow.ly/TkO3U