The Refugee Crisis



Millions of refugees are fleeing from danger zones in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, creating a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.  Many are dying in transit and the nations receiving them are being overwhelmed.  Join Active Minds as we explore how the migrants and the international community are struggling to cope with these challenges.

Key Lecture Points

  • As of 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are nearly 60 million people displaced worldwide—the largest number since the end of WWII.  1 in 122 people are a refugee, an internally displaced person or seeking asylum.
  • The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his/her home country out of fear of persecution.  The key principle of the Convention is non-refoulement in which a refugee cannot be returned to his/her home country against their will.
  • The root of the current refugee crisis can be traced to the Syrian civil war.  Over 4 million Syrians have fled the country since the civil war started in 2011.
  • In addition to Syria, people are also fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan and many other Middle Eastern and African countries.
  • In August 2015, aid agencies abruptly cut back assistance to refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan because of “donor fatigue,” leaving millions of Syrians in desperate straits.  About the same time, Germany announced that Syrians who could get to that country could apply for asylum.  This set off a tidal wave of refugees heading to Europe with the goal of reaching safety.
  • Although Europe is overwhelmed, the greatest impact has been on the countries bordering Syria.  Turkey has the largest population of refugees, housing about 2.6 million.   Lebanon has 1.1 million and Jordan has 630,000.
  • EU nations have been markedly different in their treatment of the refugees who flooded into Europe in 2015.  Greece and Italy, already challenged with weak economies, were overwhelmed with displaced people flooding their shores.  Germany and Sweden were the most welcoming.  Others like Hungary built a fence to keep refugees out.  Denmark approved laws to discourage the refugees, including the seizure of assets, including jewelry, to cover the cost of housing and feeding refugees.
  • Germany has taken the vast majority of the refugees, more than one million in 2015, but now struggles to care for the hundreds of thousands of arrivals and has appealed for a joint EU policy that would distribute the refugees equitably among the member states.  So far no agreement has been reached.
  • The refugee crisis and the resulting re-introduction of border controls is a greater threat to European unity than last year’s euro crisis.  It has divided the EU member states and exposed the lack of institutional structures to deal with dissension.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the causes of the current refugee crisis in Europe?  How is it different from previous migrations of displaced people?
  • What has been the impact on the countries neighboring Syria?  On Europe?  On the European Union?

Reflective Questions

  • How do you think the current migration will change Europe?
  • What do you think US policy should be regarding the Syrians refugees?  Refugees from other parts of the world?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Culbertson, Shelly, Louay Constant, Education of Syrian Refugee Children:  Managing the Crisis in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.  RAND Corporation, 2015.  114 pages.  This book examines the education crisis created by the influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and offers strategies to address the problem.
    Click here to order
  • Nwadiuto, Buchi. Refugee Crisis in Europe: Desperate Journeys. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. 130 pages.  The author describes the politics of the current crisis in Europe and suggests how to provide a safe haven for the refugees.
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  • Lewis, Corinne.  UNCHR International Refugee Law:  From Treaties to Innovation. Routledge, 2014. 224 pages. This book explores the historical and statutory foundations of refugee law to show how it has evolved and how it has been applied by the UN Commissioner on Human Rights in its work.
    Click here to order