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Syrian Refugee Influx in Germany and Hungary

Abstract

Why did Germany opt to give asylum to more than a million Syrian refugees within the three-year time span of 2015 to 2017 whereas Hungary completely closed its border with Serbia by constructing a 175 km long barbed-wire fence in 2015? Judging from such actions of the two countries of, we can clearly see the effect of the three-way Syrian Civil War between the Assadist faction, the Anti-Assadist faction, and the global terrorist organization named ISIS since 2012, which had driven out more than one-third of the Syrian population from their homeland. Seeking safety, the Syrians had to take refuge in the neighbouring countries of the Middle East and when that too proved insufficient; the Syrians had to take dangerous journeys across land and sea to get to their destined countries in Europe. This term paper explores the responses of Germany and Hungary towards the Syrian refugees and what caused them to take such responses in the first place.

Key Words: Syrian refugees, Germany, Hungary, Arab Spring

 

Introduction

When the Arab Spring took the Middle East and North Africa by storm in the early part of 2011, all of us were waiting eagerly in anticipation for the downfall of autocratic rule and its eventual replacement with democracy and liberal ideas. Ironically, none of us ever predicted that in spite of causing the fall of some of the worst autocratic regimes in history, this storm would go out of control and result in some of the worst cases of refugee influx and internal displacements due to the protracted civil war, instability, and breakdown of the state structure in the region, as Syria being the worst victim of it. Who would have thought in 2011, that in a country with a population of 20.86 million people, almost 6.2 million[1] people of that population would either become internally displaced (1 million) or refugees (5 million) by the year 2015? With the tripartite civil war between the Assadists (supporters of President of the Ba’ath Party Bashar al Assad), Anti-Assadists and the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) causing havoc and destruction from 2012 onwards, the Syrian people had no choice but to escape their homeland and seek refuge in neighbouring Arab countries like Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon as well as the non-Arab neighbour Turkey, which had given shelter and had registered to as many as 3.6 million[2] Syrians as of September 2019.

Research Question

Germany had received the highest number of first-time asylum applications in 2015 amounting to 442,000 Syrian refugees[3], which was unprecedented at that time given that no other country in the EU vis-à-vis the Schengen area received such number of applications over the past 30 years. So it becomes painstakingly obvious that Germany alone took the burden of 1/3rd of the total Syrian refugees who had reached there by the summer of 2015, giving them asylum due to the open-door policy of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), led by the Chancellor[4] of Germany, Angela Merkel. However, Hungary received around 174,000 asylum applications[5] by September 2015, which constituted about 13% of Syrian refugees in the EU. Needless to say, almost none of them were given entrance due to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s xenophobic and Islamophobic policies, resulting in the closure of Hungary’s border with Serbia. So, our research question would be,

  1. What were the responses towards the Syrian refugees in Germany and Hungary especially after the mass influx in 2015?

 

Syrian Refugees Migrate to Europe

When the tripartite civil war began to spiral out of control even more and the quality of asylum in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon gradually deteriorating at the end of 2013, the Syrians were forced to seek asylum in Europe. In the year 2014, almost 600,000 Syrians filed for asylum in the EU-28 countries, as well as Schengen countries Norway and Switzerland. It was a huge increase of 47%, far more than 400,000 applications filed by the Syrians in 2013. As evident, the number of asylum applications filed by the Syrians in 2015 more than doubled the 2014’s record, reaching a staggering 1.3 million i.e. an increase of 122% within a single calendar year[6]. The number of Syrian refugees in Europe was 378,000 in 2015, accounting for almost 29% of the entire asylum seekers in Europe. It was the highest share of refugees from any nation in the 21st century. This was an increase by a huge margin when compared to 125,000 in 2014 as well as a paltry figure of 49,000 in 2013. By the summer of 2015, some of the Syrian refugees even reached the European mainland either by land routes in the Balkans in addition by a dangerous boat ride from the southern Mediterranean Sea to Greece and Italy. According to the estimate of UNHCR, more than 2,500 people have lost their lives in the journey on the Mediterranean Sea between January and May of 2016.

 

Responses of Germany

Despite being the largest economy of the EU albeit with questionable leadership, Germany has become a benchmark for all the countries of the EU in responding to the Syrian Refugee crisis of the third and fourth quarter of 2015, whilst occupying a central political and rhetorical position within various media narratives. While the EU countries such as Hungary have answered with direct defiance to Refugee Conventions and promoted violence against the Syrian Refugees, Germany has responded with unprecedented hospitality that is very unique and is often shaped the by memories (and some present-day realities) of its downfall during the World War II due to xenophobia and fascism.

Likewise, Germany had given asylum to Syrian Refugees numbering at 476,510 in 2015, 745,155 in 2016, and 222,560 in 2017. Even though the Dublin Regulation adopted by the EU on the premise that only the EU countries through which the refugees first entered mainland Europe, should take the responsibility, Germany took a different approach. It was announced by the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, in August 2015 that Germany would admit any number of Syrian Refugees even if they did not claim asylum in the first EU country they entered, thereby changing direction and suspending the Dublin Regulation (Vox, August 28, 2015).

The Government of Germany’s immediate reaction to the dramatic escalation of the events in summer 2015 resulted in a somewhat inconvenient Asylum Package I[7], which was adopted due to a very quick parliamentary procedure and became effective from 24 October 2015 onwards. This package recommended that the government have a wider presence in financing the accommodation of refugees. It also lists a number of steps that are mainly aimed at accelerating the registration process of the refugees. The main objective is to integrate those refugees (from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea, etc.) at an early stage who are more likely to reintegrate in Germany. There are provisions for giving the refugees the opportunity to attend integration courses during the entire asylum procedure. On the other hand, should the refugees feel that they want to go to a different country, there are certain provisions for allowing them to leave Germany more quickly. Furthermore, cash payments in reception centers would be replaced with in-kind payments. The construction planning law for the sake of the accommodation of refugees was changed so that the bureaucratic barriers don’t cause hindrance to the well-being of the refugees.  Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo were given recognition as safe countries of origin in return for giving the citizens of those countries access to the labor market of Germany.

Aside from those, the Government of Germany allowed the NGOs and volunteers to assist the Syrian refugees in the form of providing for the basic necessities like fresh clothing, supply of clean and fresh water, health care, bureaucratic registration, translation services, and housing for the refugees[8]. Many “solidarity parties” were thrown by the volunteers in order to generate more donations for the refugees. The Constitution of Germany as well as many prominent newspapers in Germany were being translated and printed in Arabic for the ease of the Syrian refugees.

 

Responses of Hungary

Despite ratifying[9] both the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol on 14th March 1989, Hungary made a reservation on the Article 1(b) enunciated by Article 1(a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention which calls for geographical reservations[10] by the host state. In this regard, Hungary is not bound to accept any “non-Europeans” claiming to be refugees or fulfill the criteria of refugee. UNHCR accepted it at that time as it was highly unlikely that a mass refugee influx in the magnitude of Syrian Refugees would come to the doorsteps of Hungary in no more than 26 years i.e. in the August of 2015 when it denied access to 50,000 Syrian Refugees coming from the Western Balkans by referring to them as non-Europeans. The UNHCR was dumbstruck seeing what had transpired 26 years later.

Till the 15th of September, Hungary allowed entrance to the Syrian Refugees coming through the Serbian border, but in limited numbers. As the Government of Hungary had been failing to provide adequate reception for the purpose of accommodating the Syrian Refugees since June 2015, they didn’t even bother to consult with the UNHCR and rather focused on decreasing the rate of arrival of Syrian Refugees by refusing to improve the standards. The refugees were stranded in the three major train stations of the capital city of Budapest namely Keleti, Nyugati, and Deli. Some of them even slept in parks or open fields without a tent. In the Keleti Station[11], the facilities provided by the municipality of Budapest were limited to just six water taps and very few portable toilets. The rest of the vital necessities such as food, medical aid, sleeping bags, tents, and clothes was delivered solely by volunteers of NGOs who had used the space below the station as a makeshift office as storage for donations.

But the influxes of Syrian refugees began to rise drastically towards the end of August and the first week of September 2015. The Government of Hungary then decided to employ harsher tactics and then constructed the infamous 175 km barbed wire fence on the 15th of September, effectively stranding an estimated 1,000 people on the Serbian border without any sanitation or accommodation facilities. Moreover, the military and the police station in the border crossing Röszke and Horgoš hostility put together “transit zones” for the Syrian Refugees, where they would be kept till they were admitted as refugees by the Government. In reality, only a few of the refugees would be admitted and the rest would have to suffer in the transit zones without any bear-minimum facilities for an indefinite period of time. Also, the information regarding the rights of refugees was intentionally withheld from the Syrian Refugees.

Analysis

Syrian refugees who were forced to flee or migrate from their homeland toward the European mainland have opened a newer dimension in the pattern of forced migration. Not only did refugees numbering hundreds of thousands of people leave their country in great numbers owing to a never-ending civil war, but they also migrated to a place that is quite far from home and is historically, culturally, and geopolitically distant from the Middle East. Responses of Germany and Hungary towards the Syrian refugees easily gives the impression that one (Germany) is trying to right the wrongs of its past misdeeds and become a champion of human rights protection in order to improve its image in the global community, while the other (Hungary) tried to pursue narrow-minded political goals of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s political party by taking unwelcoming and deliberate strategies in making the lives of Syrian refugees stranded outside and inside of Hungary miserable so as to deter further refugee influx.

This behavior of Hungary clearly shows a typical European misconception of Syrians as “Muslim invaders”, “Terrorists” or “Jihadists” given their origin in the Middle East and is the adherents of Islam. However, Germany’s welcoming approach towards the Syrian refugees gives us confidence that not all European people, governments, or nations bear misconceptions or stereotypes of the Middle East as was the trend some five or six decades ago when communication media like television, mobile, or internet didn’t exist. It is true that some of the Syrian refugees had squandered off and embraced the petty life of thievery, robbery, drug-smuggling and in some cases terrorist acts, it still doesn’t change the fact that all Syrians or Middle Easterners are necessarily bad people.

 

Conclusion

A long road awaits Germany, Hungary, and other European countries who have experienced or are experiencing Syrian refugee influx in the past decade. Giving asylum to refugees may improve the image in the global communities, but integrating the refugees in the national economy can bring much more merit as opposed to outright rejecting them or giving them cold shoulder. All the whole, the European countries in the EU must solve the root of the Syrian refugee influx i.e. the Syrian Civil War if they want to put an end to this uncertain trend of forced migration. Humanitarian efforts could go a long way, but doing nothing can further alleviate the already deteriorating political order in Syria. What the Syrian refugees have accomplished so far is astounding given that they undertook dangerous journeys by the sea or land to reach Europe, the continent politically, economically, culturally, and socially much more diverse than their Arab speaking neighboring countries in the Middle East. They also managed to somewhat blend into the European lifestyle, while many of them are still eager to go back to their home in Syria. What the future holds for Syrian refugees and its European asylum givers remains to be seen.

 

 

[1] World Vision Staff (2019), “Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help”, Official Website of World Vision, October 18th. https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts

[2] UNHCR (2019), “Syrian Regional Refugee Response: Turkey”, Official Website of UNHCR, 14th November 2019. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria/location/113

[3] Marcus Engler (2015), “European Refugee Policies: And It Moves Yet”, Flüchtlingsforschungsblog, September 2nd. http://fluechtlingsforschung.net

[4] Marcus Engler (2016), “Germany in the refugee crisis – background, reactions and challenges”, Henrich Böll Stiftung Warsazawa, Instytiut Zachodni , 5th February 2016. https://pl.boell.org/sites/default/files/uploads/2016/04/germany_refugee_crisis_marcus_engler.pdf

[5] Pew (2016), “Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015”, Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes and Changes, August 2nd. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2016/08/02/number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3-million-in-2015/

[6] Pew (2016), “Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015”, Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes and Changes, August 2nd. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2016/08/02/number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3-million-in-2015/

[7] Deutscher Bundestag (2016), “Aktuelle Meldung”, Federal Government of Germany, current press release, March 17th. https://www.bundestag.de/presse/hib/201603/-/415614

[8] Natalie Nougayr`ede (2015), “The Refugee Crisis Gives Europe the Chance to Evolve.” The Guardian UK, September 25th. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/25/refugee-crisis-european-union

[9] UNHCR (2010), “States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol”, pp-3.

[10] UNHCR (1995), “Background Information on the Situation of Non-Europeans in Hungary in the Context of the “Safe Third Country” Concept”, November 1st. https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b32d14.html

[11] Amnesty International (2015), “Fenced Out: Hungary’s Violations of the Rights of Refugees and Migrants”, Amnesty International Publications, pp 11-12, 7th October 2015. http://tinyurl.com/oasp4bj

 

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