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Refugee crisis

2 - Response to refugee arrivals within Europe

Grade: C-
Unity 2/5
Resources 2/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 1/5
Total 7/20

There was a failure of solidarity for states overwhelmed by refugee arrivals, triggering a political crisis which threatens the European project

Over 1.5 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU in 2015, and the search for a coherent European approach that balances humanitarian needs with concerns over sovereignty has consumed huge amounts of political energy. The European project and its central principle of free movement are under severe pressure, and several countries have erected physical barriers on internal EU borders.

Germany and Sweden had the highest per capita intakes of refugees in 2015, and drove the call for burden sharing across Europe. Greece, Croatia, and Slovenia faced pressure on the EU’s external border, as did Hungary, which erected fences around its perimeter and helped introduce xenophobic rhetoric into the EU mainstream. High-level EU officials such as Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, and Frans Timmermans have been visible on the crisis, and the EU institutions have tried to drive policy forward, most notably with the Commission proposal in December to increase Frontex capacity and establish a European Borders and Coast Guard.

A European approach to this crisis based on internal solidarity has proved elusive. The September deal to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece created resentment in some member states, which objected both to the principle and to the way that it was forced through by a majority vote despite opposition by certain states. Fewer than 300 refugees had been relocated by year-end, and Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia had all pulled back from their commitments to burden sharing after the Paris attacks in November. There has been broader agreement on the need for cooperation with countries outside the EU to manage flows into the bloc and accept returned migrants, but Europe finds itself with few tools to ensure that partner countries deliver on their side of the bargain.

The EU has failed to internationalise the response to the migration crisis – the US accepted only 2,000 Syrians in 2015, while the Gulf states and China largely limited their support to aid.