Over 150,000 refugees entered the European Union in August, rising the total to more than half a million for the year, the EU border agency announced.
Although there has been a steady rise over the last ten months of the number of refugees coming in, European leaders were slow to respond, leading to what the EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called the worst refugee crisis Europe had faced since World War II.
Where the refugees are coming from — and where they’re going
The distribution of refugees among the members of the European Union has been far from equal. Most refugees are trying to reach rich countries with generous policies like Sweden and Germany, and many eastern European countries are refusing to take in any refugees.
Most try to reach the countries that are in the Schengen zone, 26 countries which have abolished border control and allow free movement of people and goods.
After that, they move on through Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary, from where many continue their journey to richer countries. Some also reach Hungary by way of Bulgaria and Romania from Turkey.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the 28 member countries of the European Union have received 437,384 asylum applications from January to July 2015.
The UNHRC also reports that between January and July 2015, Germany was by far the country that received the most asylum applications with 188,486. Hungary came second in place with 65,415 applications, and Sweden took third with 33,234 applications.
Italy was fourth with 30,223 and France fifth with 29,832 demands.
Most of the applications are made by Kosovars (48,875), Syrians (29,100), Afghans (12,910), Albanians (8,140) and Iraqis (7,295).
Many Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war and ISIS have been entering the European Union through Greece — 258,365 refugees entered Greece by boat so far this year — after going through Turkey.
Other Syrians try and reach Italy from Greece or try to reach Austria by going through Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. An increasingly popular route to enter the Schengen zone is through Norway, by way of Russia and Lebanon.
The refugees coming from African countries are mostly entering the European Union through Italy (121,000 arrivals by sea in 2015) and Spain (1,953 arrivals by sea). Once they arrive in Italy, many apply for asylum there, but some try to cross into France and from there many attempt the perilous crossing of the Eurotunnel into the United Kingdom.
Growing numbers and tensions
At his annual state of the union address last week, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to resettle 160,000 refugees throughout the members of the European Union.
The plan includes a quota of refugee per country, a measure that has been met with a lot of criticism although approved by the European Parliament. Countries in eastern Europe have vehemently opposed the mandatory relocation of refugees, leading Juncker to suggest those nations might see their EU funding cut if they continue refusing to take refugees in.
Germany’s vice chancellor said that although the relocation proposal was a first step, it was also “a drop in the ocean that won’t solve everything,” according to the Associated Press.
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has been one of the most vociferous proponents of keeping the refugees out of Europe. Believing that the refugees are a threat to Europe’s Christian identity, Orban has called for tougher border controls.
On Monday, Hungary completed the construction of the wall along their southern border with Serbia and on Tuesday new laws came into force, allowing Hungary to reject asylum requests from anyone who did not apply for asylum in Serbia. The government also declared a state of emergency in its two southern counties over the refugee crisis, paving the way to deploy the army at the border.
The country has been heavily criticised in recent weeks for its treatment of refugees and the spotlight has been shone on the country earlier last week, when a video of a camerawoman kicking a refugee went viral.
New border controls
On the other side of the spectrum is Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that there was no ‘legal limit’ to the number of refugees it would take in — but stressed that the people coming into Germany who did not have the right to claim asylum would need to go back to their countries.
On Sunday night, Germany announced it was reinstating border controls with Austria to stem to flow of refugees coming into the country. The next day Austria did the same and other countries are set to copy them as the situation worsens by the day.
The measures go against the principle of the Schengen agreement, which guarantees free movement of people among the countries that are part of the zone.
The refugee crisis is getting so bad that people are starting to speculate that it will cause Britain to leave the European Union for good, others that it will lead to the end of the European Union full stop.
Nevertheless, the European leaders do not seem willing to take in the scope of the crisis. The UN warned last week that if the war in Syria continues raging, millions of refugees are expected to come to Europe in the next years.
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