We often see figures on the far right referring to the “European refugee crisis”, or the “European migrant crisis”, in an attempt to stoke the fires of intolerance for political gain.
They point to the influx of over a million refugees and migrants across Europe in 2015, suggesting that the West is facing an “invasion” or a “swarm”, and using that to justify sweeping immigration bans and hostile environments.
But the reality is very different. In 2019, only 9.6% of the world’s refugees live in Europe – and almost half of those live in Germany. That doesn’t sound like a “European refugee crisis” – it sounds like something that the wealthiest nations in the world can manage.
But for all the hysterical media coverage and fear-mongering slogans, the West is still a long way from supporting its fair share of refugees and displaced people.
Graphic courtesy of Amnesty International; figures sourced from the UNHCR.
When we started Help Refugees, we were often asked why so many refugees come to Europe – but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of refugees live in the nations neighbouring their home country.
Turkey, for example – which shares a border with Syria – is home to over 3.4 million refugees. Likewise, Jordan hosts 2.9 million – in a country of only 9 million people. That’s almost a third of the population.
The UK, on the other hand, is currently home to just 126,720 refugees. That’s only 0.48% of the world’s total – and only 1.8% of the population. Compare that to Jordan’s 32%, and suddenly the phrase “European refugee crisis” seems a bit silly.
Meanwhile, the European Union pays off Turkey and Libya to get them to stop the flow of refugees – leaving millions of people in extremely insecure environments, even putting people at risk of detention and human trafficking.
The EU-Turkey Deal has left millions of Syrians in limbo in Turkey, where it’s nearly impossible to find work as a refugee – but where they conveniently cause no headaches for Europe’s leaders. Likewise, in funding the coastguard and preventing people from leaving Libya, the EU is indirectly putting people at risk of modern slavery and trafficking.
Refugees in Calais and Dunkirk live in dire conditions. With neither the UK nor the French government wanting to take responsibility, civil society organisations step in to fill the gap. Photo: HRO
That’s not to say that there’s not serious issues facing displaced people once they arrive in Europe, too. The best estimates suggest that around 10,000 unaccompanied minors have gone missing on the continent.
In Greece, there are almost 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom live in the worst camps on the continent. The asylum system is overloaded and hundreds of unaccompanied minors have to sleep on the streets.
In Northern France, hundreds of people are forced to live on the streets and in the forests, blocked by hostile bureaucracies and anti-immigrant sentiment across the country, desperately trying to find safety in the UK.
We can do better than this – we have to.