This summer saw one crisis after another on Europe’s borders, with refugees from warzones drowning before they washed ashore or dying mysteriously in transit.
The recent discovery of 71 refugees’ dead bodies, who suffocated in a van on Hungary’s border with Austria, has accelerated the European Union’s urgency in meeting the unprecedented flow of humanity.
The disaster has roots in troubled countries near Europe, including Syria’s bloody civil war and the ongoing conflict in Libya, which now includes participation by an Islamic State affiliate. And the pressure so far has been intense: the European border control agency is now reporting over 100,000 migrant entries per month. Since it began four years ago, Syria’s war has driven over 4 million civilians to flee the country. (RELATED: Fleeing Syrians Swim Among Drowned Corpses In Chilling Video)
But Europe’s response has been hard to coordinate and susceptible to weakness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Monday of the pressure that new challenges place on the Schengen system, the 20-year-old agreement which legalized unrestricted movement across all borders within the E.U. Another European law is also in play, requiring refugees to settle in the E.U. country where they arrive.
A recent deal requires each E.U. member country to accept a certain number of refugees — and some smaller countries in Eastern Europe are resisting the order. Earlier this month, Slovakia announced that it would only accept Christian refugees from Syria, provoking criticism from some corners.
Tension has emerged from a perceived political imbalance between Europe’s larger and smaller states. For Germany and Sweden, which have received the largest share of refugees so far, their smaller neighbors have a duty to do their share. But at the same time, the Schengen rules are encouraging refugees to seek asylum in the more developed economies of the north and west.
Austria and Hungary have already begun implementing additional passport checks and vehicle inspections at their borders. Poland, meanwhile, is struggling to comply, but cautioned the authorities that it has its own problem with refugees fleeing the Russian-backed civil war in Ukraine. (RELATED: No, That Report Of Dead Russian Soldiers In Ukraine Wasn’t True)
The U.S., meanwhile, announced last week that it would absorb between 5,000 and 8,000 fleeing Syrians over the course of 2016.
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