Europe was rocked by tragedy on August 28, when Austrian authorities found 71 dead refugees inside the back of a truck that had passed from Hungry into Austria. The truck was abandoned two days earlier, but the degree of decomposition of the bodies indicates that the migrants may have suffocated and died even before August 26. Authorities believe the victims to be Syrian refugees.
This tragic event was just one of many over the last month that has illuminated how pressing and massive the global refugee crisis is, as well as the problems facing EU member nations. Increasingly complex trafficking schemes are emerging to meet the demand of refugees, who are entering southern Europe at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, analysts are calling the crisis the single largest movement of people through Europe since World War II.
As Key Elements Group LLC has previously covered, the migrant crisis in Europe poses profound questions. The traditionally open-border mentality of many European nations is dissolving under economic strain and populist backlash – evident with the emergence of nativist, anti-immigrant and (in several nations) fascist political parties. What course that is both humane and politically feasible is possible? What role does philanthropy play in alleviating the suffering of migrants and helping host nations cope?
Over 72 hours at the end of August, cash-strapped Greece rescued over 2,500 migrants making the risky Mediterranean crossing between Turkey and the Greek archipelagos. Since June 1, approximately 142,000 migrants have entered Greece by sea, a number that amounts to nearly 13 percent of the Greek population. While migrants enter through several different points along Europe’s southern boarder – including Italy and Spain – Greece bears the brunt of the influx, a situation exacerbated by its fraught financial and political crises.
After entering Greece, many migrants pass into Macedonia, move through the Balkans and try to make it into wealthier European countries. The stress, difficulty, and complex social circumstances revolving around this system emerged on August 21 when Macedonian riot police fired stun grenades near a border crossing, causing a brief period of chaos and fear.
In the absence of meaningful public funding to address the crisis, philanthropic Greek citizens are stepping forward and offering what support they can – even while tensions rise and some Greeks are losing patience. On the island of Lesbos, islanders have formed a nonprofit relief organization called Angalia – or “Hug” – that provides basic needs support to migrants rescued off the island’s shore. Yet balancing their own responsibilities (as well as the turmoil of their country’s political and economic systems), volunteers can only do so much, as one Lesbos resident and organizer for Angalia recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Fleeing the convoluted and violent civil war in their own country, many Syrians are effectively stateless, and require an immense and fully international assistance in order to regain a semblance or order and stability in their lives. As the Economist recently suggested, greater EU investment in refugee processing centers in Greece is a logical first step. Authorities will also probably have to expand current plans to resettle around 22,000 migrants. In order to break through the bureaucratic morass that prevents swift action on these sensitive and contentious issues, authorities should also invest in nonprofit initiatives that strive to assist and acclimate refugees entering Europe. This situation calls for a holistic, multi-lateral approach that integrates philanthropic relief across the entire geographic migrant route from Syria to Germany.
Nonprofit and NGO relief organizations are incapable of preventing the rising tension between refugee communities and Middle Eastern host countries such Jordan and Turkey. With increasingly hostile natives and crowded conditions, experts expect the situation in Europe to get even worse as people begin traveling north in the hope of better living conditions. Without bold action now, it may be difficult for future solutions to include the humanity and comprehensive assistance that the refugees deserve.