Migrants, Refugees and the EU: An Explanation


The drafting and subsequent legal battles that have accompanied the Trump Administration’s Executive Order suspending the US refugee program has created a frenzy of social media outrage usually reserved for a Beyonce pregnancy announcement (well, perhaps not quite that much). In so doing, an incredibly complex geopolitical dilemma has been reduced to Facebook posts and memes that result in an understanding of the issue that is cursory at best, and dangerously inaccurate at its worst.

Simultaneously, the rise of right-wing populist movements in Europe with visibly isolationist platforms creates exponentially more confusion about who goes where, why they go, how they get there and what they do within the 28 member states of the EU. The conflation of recent US initiatives towards halting immigration from seven different majority Muslim countries with an apprehension towards Islam lends credibility to a ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory that has been circulating through both academic and popular discourse for decades. That theory, developed by Samuel Huntington in 1993, tells of the next great conflict as predicated not on resources or ideologies but on fundamental and intractable cultural fault lines that will collide and create large scale conflicts with no practicable solutions.

Of course, in practice, things are rarely so simple. First, the recent refugee crises in the EU are not the first with which the bloc has been confronted. The civil war in the former Yugoslavia resulted in more than 2 million internally displaced persons who headed to the safety of the European Union in the early 1990’s, and since then the yearly number of asylum seekers into the EU has not dipped below 200,000. Moreover, of the more than 65 million internally displaced peoples worldwide only 1-2 million people make it to the EU, whose population of more than 500 million makes these refugees a very small percentage of the aggregate population.

Because of the utter complexity of these and other questions, I used Google Trends to identify the most common inquiries about refugee policy in the EU and the impact of it on European politics, and have done my level best to answer these questions in a handy primer (Forbes has used the same tools for a great article of their own). Wherever possible, I have used sources and data directly from the EU and other international organizations that work directly on migrant and refugee policy, and tried to condense and simplify the answers without compromising the information.


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