The Evolution of the Refugee Crisis
The 2015 refugee crisis is still a raw issue for millions of Europeans, and continues to serve as fodder for populist and nationalist movements. But, in reality, the situation has started to improve dramatically in many host countries, and it is now incumbent on European leaders to ensure that the trend continues.
LONDON – As they celebrate Christmas, Germans are also remembering the dead from last year’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market by a migrant who had been denied asylum. That incident fanned the flames of public sentiment against immigration, and probably played a role in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stunning failure to form a new a coalition government after the federal election in September. Within the German electorate, there are widespread fears that another wave of migrants like the influx two years ago will deluge the country.
But the facts on the ground have changed dramatically. On November 15, 2015, a migration command center in the German Foreign Ministry on Werderscher Markt in Berlin was tracking refugee flows at every potential border crossing on the route from Greece to Germany. Eventually, of 12 million displaced Syrians, one million arrived in Europe. And despite a massive response from the German government and members of the public, many asylum-seekers ended up sleeping on the streets and in railway stations. At the time, there were rumors of a migrant-fueled crime wave sweeping the country, though later research found little increase in crime along migration routes.
Two year later, much has changed. The German bureaucratic engine has been firing on all cylinders to process asylum claims and facilitate integration. Of 700,000 asylum applications in 2016, almost 300,000 were denied, and those people are waiting to be returned to their countries of origin. Greece, the first stop in the European Union for refugees from the Middle East, has started to close some refugee camps, after granting asylum to around 50,000 people. And even Italy, the first EU port of call for African migrants, is now experiencing a decline in asylum applications.