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Refugee Crisis: A Calming of the Storm, But Much Work Ahead

The immediate crisis has eased from the heights of 2015-16, but the road ahead remains daunting. During the refugee crisis, Berlin has carried a disproportionate burden within Germany and we, at VISIONEERS, look ahead to advancing a comprehensive agenda to address challenges.

Entering 2017, the scale of the refugee crisis in Europe has seemingly eased, at least with concern to the flow of new arrivals. As we wrote late last year, after the closure of migration routes in the Balkans and March 2016’s deal between the EU and Turkey, Mediterranean crossings—the primary route for asylum seekers—have fallen significantly. In the first two months of this year, 16,909 Mediterranean sea arrivals were recorded, according to data from UNHCR—the lowest two-month total since early 2015 (Chart 1), and compared with 134,209 during the first two months of 2016.

Chart 1. Mediterranean Arrivals Have Fallen

Source: UNHCR

Germany has been the principal destination in Europe for refugees fleeing civil war and persecution, with 60% of first-time asylum seekers in the EU filing for asylum in Germany in 2016. As we previously wrote, this relates amongst other reasons to Germany’s reputation for respect for human rights, its education system and the nation’s welcome of those fleeing conflict—according to recent research.

But, the reduction in the severity of the crisis has also been tangible in Germany. Just over 16,000 asylum applications were filed in January (Chart 2), a distant cry from one-month peaks last August of over 92,000. While backlogs remain extraordinary, they are being cleared. Moreover, more arrivals who were not eligible for or were likely to be denied asylum have left voluntarily—nearly 55,000 in 2016.

Chart 2. Falling Asylum Applications in Germany

Source: Eurostat

But, this does not mean that the road ahead will be simple. With civil wars raging in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, amongst other nations, and 5 million Syrian refugees registered in the Middle East and North Africa, any further destabilization of the region or rescission of agreements would threaten recent pacification of the refugee crisis. While the deal with Turkey and recent plans to limit illegal inflows from the largest remaining trafficking point, Libya, are steps in the right direction to ameliorate the needless loss of life in perilous crossings and ease the burden on stretched European societies, it remains indeterminate what directions the crisis could take.

Since the onset of the crisis, Berlin has taken on a disproportionate burden within Germany. In response, it was, importantly, through the inspiring deluge in new volunteer activities by ordinary citizens that Berlin has effectively met this challenge and accommodated the tens of thousands that have joined its neighborhoods. These volunteer networks have supported language training, bolstered community integration, supported educational and employment opportunities, and helped find affordable housing for refugees—projecting a daring example of the generosity and compassion of the city and its residents. In these areas, VISIONEERS has been vitally involved, and we look ahead to advancing a bold agenda—with support from those interested to take action—in meeting the challenges ahead.

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