Is Europe’s record on refugees better than that of the US?

With almost 64 million people displaced globally the crisis is growing and solutions seem few

Chris Doyle
Chris Doyle
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
6 min read

As the world draws a deep breath and comes to terms with Hurricane Trump running roughshod over American governance not least his restrictions on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim states, it is time to take stock at what long term implications of conflicts and refugees might be not least in the EU. With almost 64 million people displaced globally the crisis is growing and solutions seem few.

But is also time to be honest about the collective international failure. While it is right to protest the actions of the new US administration, few states have a perfect record on refugees and asylum seekers. Most states do not have guilt-edged record on welcoming refugees not least in Europe. Britain only agreed to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years. France only took in a paltry 1000 refugees in 2016.

The climate of hate and fear stirred up by the Trump administration has created an atmosphere that will compel many to look elsewhere. For refugees fleeing conflicts from the sheer desperation of their plight the US may still appear a seductive destination but clearly the opportunities will be limited. Will other states take up the slack or adopt the Trump line?

Although the hate and anger against refugees and Muslims has escalated it is not just in the US. Hate crimes have gone up, the attack on the mosque in Quebec and Texas just the latest. Increasingly many in Europe as well buy into the line that refugees are all potential terrorists. Incidents of anti-Muslim abuse in the UK rose by 326 percent in 2015.

Even those civil society groups and human rights organizations working with refugees and asylum seekers have been attacked. In Italy, planned reception centers for refugees were even burnt down.

Amnesty International published a damning report in 2016 into how Germany had systematically failed to investigate hate crimes against asylum seekers following an 87 percent increase in violent racist crimes between 2013 and 2015. European media coverage of refugees and asylum seekers has frequently been appalling portraying them as hordes threatening our way of life not desperate people fleeing wars, extremists and dictatorships.

How many other states will opportunistically follow Trump’s line with harsher and more discriminatory entry requirements. Yet again most EU states had already tightened their borders even countries like Sweden that historically was so welcoming. Some European leaders have been little better than Trump.

In May 2016, the Slovak Prime Minister, Roberto Fico stated that “Islam has no place in Slovakia.” The EU has also been doing deals to ensure that repressive states like Turkey and Belarus prevent refugees from entering Europe.

The EU is looking down the barrel of at least three major elections this year that could define the future of the whole project. Will the far right continue its march in the Netherlands, France and Germany?

Chris Doyle

Moral high ground

Even those declining number of states that opt to take the moral high ground and welcome refugees like Canada may feel isolated but also risk a backlash domestically if the burden of refugee hosting is not shared amongst other states. This of course is what happened in Germany when Angela Merkel took in over one million refugees. Her fate in Germany’s elections in September is far from certain.

Moreover, US is far from the first to start building walls to keep immigrants out. In Europe, even inside the borderless Schengen zone, Austria is building a fence with Slovenia to keep refugees out. Hungary under Viktor Orban has built fences with both Serbia and Croatia. Slovenia has a fence with Croatia.

The EU is looking down the barrel of at least three major elections this year that could define the future of the whole project. Will the far right continue its march in the Netherlands, France and Germany? First up will be the Netherlands, where Trump fan, Gert Wilders leads the polls, a man who promises to close down all mosques and ban the Quran.

In France, Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader, looks likely to make the second round in the Presidential elections. Just perhaps the chaotic scenes from the United States, might cause some to steer away from the nuclear option of supporting groups like the National Front.

The challenges are only going to increase. Just consider that one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. And in this whole debate on refugees where some commentators seem to think that the US and Europe are swamped, few recognize that 86 percent of the refugees are to be found in low- and middle-income countries. Can there be a more staggering indictment of our failure on refugees that less than 1 percent of the world’s refugees are resettled?

Added to all this is a major funding crisis where UN appeals have ever increasing funding shortfalls. Where will the UN will get the extra $15 billion it needs a year to fund humanitarian programmes?

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly of all, the drivers of refugee flows are exacerbating. Conflicts abound, and few states least of all the Trump administration have any credibly strategy to end them.

Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio and gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. He tweets @Doylech.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending