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Germany Takes Center Stage in the Refugee Crisis

To date in 2016, Europe’s refugee crisis has continued exacting its heavy toll. In this crisis, Germany’s responsibility has grown with Europe’s increasing dependence on it to process new asylum applicants—necessitating more than ever the work of organizations like VISIONEERS to welcome and support newcomers to communities around Germany.

In 2015, more than one million refugees came to Europe, seeking to escape war-torn regions in the Middle East and Central Asia, in the hopes to build a better life for themselves and posterity.

So far in 2016, these flows to Europe have eased. When viewed through the lens of arrivals by sea, approximately 350,000 new arrivals have crossed the Mediterranean this year through November based on data from the UNHCR compared with nearly 900,000 such arrivals at a similar stage in 2015 (Chart 1). This drop has been largely due to the closure of routes through the Balkans alongside March’s deal between the EU and Turkey, which committed to cutting new irregular migration to the Greek islands, in exchange for EU financing supporting refugees based in Turkey.

Chart 1. Arrivals by Sea Have Fallen Sharply

Source: UNHCR

However, this decline in sea arrivals has not translated into a normalization of applications for asylum, at least not so far. Year-to-date (through September of 2016), the number of first time asylum applicants totaled approximately 950,000 in the EU, a 15% increase on the figure at the same stage in 2015. This disconnect between declining sea arrivals and rising asylum applications probably represents mostly a lag between the arrival of new asylum seekers and their filing for asylum after reaching an intended country of destination—in many cases, Germany. An additional factor causing this disconnect could be an increase in arrivals through alternative land-based routes.

At the country level, it’s known that Germany has taken on the most significant burden in Europe, with a revised estimate of 890,000 arrivals in Germany in 2015 alongside a projection of up to 300,000 arrivals in 2016. While incoming migration has eased, Germany’s responsibility in processing asylum applications has not. In August of 2016, 68% of first time asylum seekers in the EU applied for asylum in Germany, compared with only 35% in the year of 2015. Chart 2 shows that applications for asylum in Germany have increased, even whilst at an EU level, total applications have declined from the crisis peaks of late summer/fall 2015. While this mostly may relate to delays in claims filed by asylum seekers that arrived earlier, the comparative burden on Germany within Europe to integrate newcomers has, in addition, risen after the closure of borders to further arrivals by several other of the previous major destination nations, notably Hungary and Sweden.

Chart 2. Germany Carries an Increasing Burden within the EU

Source: Eurostat

So, with the job that’s ahead of us, it’s incumbent that Germany plays the leadership role that it has in showing tolerance towards newcomers, and not only work steadfastly towards resolving the underlying issues/conflicts causing the refugee crisis, but also provide the guidance we need in regards to humanitarian projects helping those fleeing conflict. In Berlin, VISIONEERS will seek to continue its role supporting the tens of thousands of new-arrivers that have joined our community. In that, we ask for those with a mind towards helping at this critical stage to volunteer in our many active programs. We believe that through integrating these displaced individuals, Germany will in the end benefit from the new insights and talents that they bring.

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