1. Greece’s economic Crisis
For at least 20 years, refugees from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were arriving in Greece – and the rest of Europe didn’t have to deal with them. The EU has a rule: the first country where a refugee arrives is the country responsible for processing their asylum claim. For years, Greek officials processed tens of thousands of asylum claims. Some were allowed to stay, some were deported, some snuck off before a decision was made. Once they were granted Asylum, they could legally move throughout Europe.
Because there’s a serious economic crisis in Greece preventing most new arrivals from finding work, as soon as migrants are processed, they travel to another EU country.
Also, in 2014, the new government strongly encouraged refugees to be ‘processed’ as quickly as possible. Sometimes, that meant getting them paperwork asap, and sometimes that meant turning a blind eye while they passed through Greece. Either way, they started flooding into other European Countries.
2. Syrians are stressing the system – but they’re not the only ones
3 Million Syrians have left the country (over half of their population). At a certain point, the refugee camps in Turkey just reached capacity and people had to move along. Some could afford a boat trip to Greece. But those who couldn’t afford that option began walking through Bulgaria to Serbia, which aren’t EU countries. That means all of a sudden, millions of refugees began arriving in Austria and Hungary – which weren’t prepared to deal with them.
What surprised me is that the Syrian Refugees alone aren’t the biggest issue. Iraq and Afghanistan combined are creating nearly as many refugees as Syria – and they’ve been stressing the EU’s refugee system for a decade now. There wasn’t room for another crisis. (The rest have all been emigrating to Europe for years, and the EU is basically prepared to handle them. )
3. Smart Phone Technology
To say that smart phones have revolutionized travel is an understatement. 15 years ago, I needed to carry a lot of paper maps and guidebooks with me, and even then, I was always hoping to find someone who spoke English. It took weeks for me to figure out how to work the local telephone system, and the trains were nearly impossible to understand. While studying in Spain, I took a 10 day trip throughout Europe, with money, a cell phone, and a US passport, and I was still lost half of the time.
Now, we’re gliding through 11 countries with just our cell phone. Google maps tells us how to get where we’re going, where to eat & sleep when we get there, and then we can text our family to let them know we’re safe. With the internet, we knew when Delta grounded every flight in the world, and when Turkey had a coup, and when France had a terror attack (all of which happened while we were here). We were able to alter our travel plans in response.
With the internet, people in war-torn countries knew exactly when Greece opened its northern border, and when Germany invited them to arrive. They know when the trains are running through Bulgaria and when Hungary built the wall. From their refugee camp in Turkey, they know when their parents have died in a bombing, and there’s no longer any reason to try to get back home.
Refugees know that it’s a dangerous journey. Hundreds die every month just on the 4-hour boat crossing. But google maps and cell phones mean you can connect with your uncle in Germay, get updates from the police situation in Hungary, download maps of the highways in Bulgaria, wire money to your family back home, and translate words for your asylum application or social worker. That little pocket computer is their lifeline. Many of them don’t have useful shoes or water to drink, but the smart phone in their pocket made a dangerous journey a possibility.
4. Germany’s Welcome Mat
German Chancellor Angela Merkell has a “We Can Do It” attitude about welcoming refugees. Maybe it’s because the last international refugee crisis was caused by Germany during the Holocaust/ World War II, or maybe it’s because the German Economy desperately needs more workers and more babies, but Germany is willing to welcome many immigrants and refugees to live and work there. (Sweden does, too). When Greece said “we can’t do this alone anymore” Germany stepped up and volunteered to help. Unfortunately, the countries in between are either not EU countries or not interested in helping refugees.
Putting it all together
Economics, politics, wars, technology, and jobs –> all combined, they create a perfect storm of people on the move. No matter where they come from, or where they end up settling, refugees are desperate for new opportunities. Countries have the choice to welcome and embrace them, or make life difficult for everyone. How we respond is up to us.