The refugee crisis in Europe: Challenges and possible solutions

August 25, 2016

In this Policy Forum, Randall Hansen and Shalini Randeria discuss the different ideological viewpoints of liberals and conservatives in Europe with respect to accepting refugees, highlighting why - even though the continent is not bearing the "brunt" of the refugee crisis - it remains "in the center of a political and social storm" related to refugees asylum. Globally, there are at least 65 million displaced people, 21 million of whom seek refuge across international borders. Given Europe's size, the number of refugees seeking haven in the continent is ultimately a small fraction, yet the battle over border access in Europe has become fierce, and the handling of the situation is criticized by 90% of national residents. Distinctly divided approaches exist, even within countries, between "liberal, cosmopolitan elites and supporters of nativist right-wing populist ideologies." While the liberal, humanitarian approach to the crisis - which would have Europe accept 25% to 50% of the world's refugees - still has support, right-wing parties opposed to immigration have been gaining popularity. Though the authors ultimately believe Europe needs more migration, they feel that current constraints will make that difficult; for example, immigrants with inadequate language skills face enormous challenges in securing apprenticeships, and as a result, integrate too often into welfare, with limited incentives for returning and taking low paying jobs. One way to tackle the welfare challenge is to reduce income support for refugees, they say, but social democrats are strongly opposed. Mainstream conservative politicians are much more amenable to labor market and welfare reforms that would accommodate unskilled immigration, but they have traditionally been opposed to easy or early naturalization, and reject dual citizenship. Regardless of ideological belief, the authors say that aging and shrinking populations should prompt Europeans to welcome young foreigners who could relieve shortages in the labor market and shore up depleted state pension funds through their tax contributions. As part of this effort, the EU and its member states must be seen to be in control of its external borders, so that the public can feel confident the state has control. On 13 July of this year, following what has been perceived as a failure by the European Union to handle the recent refugee influx and related matters, the European Union Commission proposed a "Common European Asylum System," focused on improving review of refugee applications. The proposal is currently under evaluation by member states.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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