Syrian Refugees: Europe Struggles to Cope
(A Hungarian police officer stands in front of Syrian refugees made to disembark a train en route to Germany)
Tensions are mounting in Europe, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have sought stability and security after fleeing their home country, which is embroiled in an ongoing civil war fought amongst a dizzying array of factions.
On Monday, French authorities cleared a highly publicized refugee camp in Calais – a town situated on the English Channel in the north of France.
The camp in Calais – pejoratively known as “the jungle” and housing an estimated 4,000 migrants from across the Middle East and Africa – was torn down following a court order that denied an appeal filed by nonprofit organizations that sought to stay the order. While many of the residences inside the camp were destroyed, the order prevented the demolition of religious centers, schools, and medical facilities set up in the area.
One photo taken of the eviction shows a camp resident holding a sign that reads “we are not terrorists so don’t destroy our homes” as he flees a water canon deployed by French authorities against migrants protesting the camp’s demolition.
The government’s decision to destroy the camp essentially kicks the can down the road, as European governments continue to drag their feet on a united and comprehensive plan to deal with the refugee influx.
Many migrants – especially young refugees – have already moved to a camp located in Dunkirk, which nonprofits say has even worse conditions and poses a serious sanitation emergency with about one toilet for every 100 refugees. Mathieu Balthazard – an aid worker with Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the non-governmental organizations working to help refugees – remarked on the makeshift community in Dunkirk:
It is truly exceptional to see a camp like this. I have seen a camp in Ethiopia which had mud like this, but here it is worse: there is less organization. It is becoming more and more shocking every day.
While many refugees have been accepted by EU member countries, there are a number of signs that individual governments are at the breaking point. Sweden – famed for its strong humanitarian position and open border policy for refugees – has enacted identity checks on trains and border crossings and has announced plans to stop accepting new refugees. Austria has introduced border controls. Italy and Greece – cash-strapped EU member states that have borne the brunt of the crisis – received more than 110,000 refugees in the first two months of 2016 alone.
Outside of logistical issues posed by what some analysts are calling the greatest displacement of people since WWII, the influx of Syrian refugees has stoked racial tension, with far-right nationalist politics on the ascent across Europe. In Germany, there have been more than 200 arson attacks on refugee centers, raising eyebrows in a country that – in acknowledgement of its role in the Holocaust – has long boasted a strong track record on tolerance and the respect of human rights.
While governments struggle to muster a unified response to the crisis, there are many organizations and individuals stepping up to ensure that migrants stuck in this tortuous limbo receive bare necessities including food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Charity Navigator has a list of vetted, highly credible organizations working to ease the plight of Syrian migrants. A number of US organizations are stepping up as well, accepting donations to help provide basic needs assistance and educational opportunities for children caught up in the crisis.