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Opinion and Editorial

Has refugee fatigue struck Europe?

Nadia Hussain (Ground Zero)
Filed on January 16, 2020 | Last updated on January 16, 2020 at 10.08 pm

The rise of far-right and xenophobic ideologies has resulted in intolerance towards migrants, especially those from Africa and the Middle East.

Despite the migrant crisis emergency declared in May of 2019, countries like Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK continue to experience an influx of migrants who seek refuge. Upon arrival in Europe, migrants are dubbed as 'illegal', and many are forced to await their approval. According to the European Statistics Office, close to 900,000 asylum seekers are still waiting for their claims to be processed across the European Union. In these camps, migrants have been experiencing complete disregard for their human rights.

In October of last year, protests broke out at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, where a woman was killed in a fire and was the third fatality in as many months. In September, following an influx of approximately 24,000 refugees, Doctors Without Borders voiced concern and accused Greek and European authorities of deliberately neglecting the migrants' needs. The humanitarian NGO followed up, encouraging the Greek government and the European Union to evacuate children, increase medical staff and ensure mechanisms to avoid continuous overcrowding.

Even refugees with an approved status continue to face problems. While integration is the official policy in most European countries, migrants are often placed in 'ghetto communities' and separated from the rest of society, making it difficult to learn the language, integrate culturally or mix with the population. In fact, migrants are lagging far behind the average population in academic achievements and workforce participation. For many migrants, being accepted into a country is far from the end of their journey to refuge.

Problems with integration persist

Despite migrants each having their own individual challenges, there are some themes that are recurring throughout. For example, it is far more common to find migrants working at low-paying jobs than the average citizen which makes the cost of living a constant challenge. In Germany, living expenses are typically calculated aggregated to be around ?853 a month. In the UK, rent for a one-bedroom apartment can be as high as £770 a month. Meanwhile, multiple countries including Denmark and Austria have cut social benefits, with many of these initiatives specifically targeting migrants.

Another factor affecting the integration of migrants is language barriers. In countries like Germany, France, and Spain, language barriers worsen the chances for migrants to get a job or get accepted to university. Language teaching is both expensive and time-intensive and is a major additional expense on a limited budget.

A tense political climate

The rise of far-right and xenophobic ideologies has resulted in intolerance towards migrants, especially those from Africa and the Middle East.

Increased political polarisation has created an insecure climate for many migrants, whose rights have come under attack in European parliaments.

Preconceptions and prejudice towards migrants are often toxic, and migrants are often scapegoated.

According to a recent report from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, people of African descent experience "widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion" across the European Union. In December, video footage revealed private security personnel attacking asylum seekers at a refugee camp in Brandenburg, Eastern Germany. In the first half of 2019 alone, German police recorded 609 "right-wing politically motivated" attacks on asylum seekers in the country, with most of the attacks happening in Brandenburg.

Poor access to local services

Access to services also remains poor, although it's not always a structural issue. Migrants avoid seeking a doctor's advice and legal guidance, often due to poor understanding of the local systems. Mental health issues are also common as many migrants are exposed to torture, violence or rape in their attempt to reach Europe, which is why there is a need for mental health professionals which often migrants don't have access to.

Migrants head to Europe with the desire for a better life, but the problems and setbacks they face upon arrival can drive them into a collapsing physical and mental health. Last week, two asylum seekers killed themselves in Mouries, with Doctors Without Borders once again emphasising that the situation is reaching a "boiling point".

In Italy for example, some regions only allow healthcare registration for two months before migrants need to pay a significant proportion of the costs. For children over 6, access to healthcare isn't free, which forces many parents to take their children to emergency departments. In the UK, the cost of a standard birth is £7,000, and the price increases if there are complications. As a consequence, women often seek medical assistance a long time after when it's optimal to avoid the expense they cannot afford.

What can Europe do?

The European migrant crisis peaked in 2015, as Europe's outer borders collapsed in face of the Syrian Civil War. Angela Merkel's iconic 'Wir schaffen das' (We can do this) became the official response of Europe, but the European asylum system remained broken. The refugee relocation system introduced by the European Union was well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective.

The European failure on all matters pertaining to refugees makes a hollow mockery of the European Union's promises, a union built on the demolition of borders and peaceful coexistence. The Union needs not only to establish a functioning asylum system that avoids the current neglect by forcing migrants to southern European countries; it also needs to articulate a vision that allows people of all backgrounds to live within it.

According to economist Herbert Brücker, Germany's economy depends on the successful integration of newly arrived migrants into the workforce. If you discount immigration numbers, the assumed number of workers in Germany could decline by 40 per cent by 2060. Net immigration levels of 400,000 people per year are needed to keep that figure stable. In fact, most European countries now experience declining birth rates, which is all the more reason to embrace immigration.

So long as there are immigrants, much more needs to be done to help them integrate into European society. Alongside all the benefits immigrants bring, Europe should also embrace their needs and help them rebuild their lives. This will ultimately benefit Europe and bring stability and peace to the region allowing immigrants to flourish and bringing new meaning to the phrase 'diversity is our strength'.

Nadia Hussain is political analyst and researcher based in Norway

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