Syrian Refugees Are Also Victims Of European Politics

The European Union's failure to provide desperate asylum seekers with legal routes leaves them with no option but to risk their lives on smugglers’ boats.

Migrants arriving in Palermo, Italy, after a rescue mission
Migrants arriving in Palermo, Italy, after a rescue mission
Mat Nashed


Nearly half the population in Syria has been uprooted from their homes. Some 4 million Syrians have fled to seek refuge outside the country’s borders. But those trapped inside have nowhere to run.

With the crisis pressing on and countries across the Middle East closing their doors to Syrian refugees, it is high time the EU restructured its policy toward asylum seekers.

Egypt and Jordan first closed their borders in 2013, while Lebanon imposed strict visa conditions at the start of this year. Although Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, the country only reopened its borders last week during the battle for Tell Abyad, a city on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Those who managed to flee have struggled to acquire legal status in neighboring countries. Some have been forced to look northward for protection, but Europe has resettled less than 2% of Syrian refugees. Committed to a policy of border deterrence, the EU has pushed thousands to their death.

In the first four and a half months of 2015 alone, more than 1,800 people may have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe. This amounts to 18 times more than the number of people who lost their lives over the same period in 2014.

Xenophobia vs. sound economics

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states that those escaping persecution have the right to seek protection in Europe. Nonetheless, few, if any, legal routes exist for people to get there.

Amnesty International has urged the EU to resettle 10% of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Though this would be a positive step, a higher resettlement quota that includes all EU member states would offer wider protection.

But this approach will never be adopted so long as some European states view such agreements as an infringement on their sovereignty.

For now, distributing more work and student visas, along with Amnesty’s request, would be a vital step. Not only would a young labor force acquire international protection, but as new taxpayers, they would help sustain Europe’s welfare programs as the continent’s population ages.

After decades of toiling under the corruption of the Assad family’s regime, more Syrians are earning a living by becoming entrepreneurs. Enabling them to study would stimulate Europe’s struggling economies and ensure an educated class after the war concludes, if they chose to return.

Unfortunately, these measures are unlikely to gain traction as long as widespread xenophobia undermines sound economics. As far-right leaders gain wider support by framing refugees as a “threat to national security,” those from the left have stopped advocating migrants’ rights in order to guarantee votes.

Beyond Dublin 3

Embarking from the shores of Libya, Turkey and Egypt, refugees are placed in overcrowded fishing boats and given coordinates and cellphones to aid their journey.

Those lucky enough to make it as far as the coast of Europe face the next barrier. According to the Dublin 3 Regulation â€" the cornerstone of the EU’s asylum system â€" migrants must submit their asylum claims in the first EU country they enter. That state is then responsible for deciding their status, even if asylum seekers try to enter another EU country.

If the Dublin system really worked, southern European states would see the highest number of asylum applications. A look at the figures demonstrates the opposite. In 2014, 70% of asylum claims were lodged in just five of the 28 EU countries: None of them are on the Mediterranean coast.

This is in large part due to the Syrian crisis. As the number of people fleeing bloodshed rises exponentially, returning people to their first country of entry has become practically impossible. A more effective procedure would allow refugees to choose where they would like to seek protection. This approach would quickly reunite families and eliminate the demand for human smugglers.

Rights without routes

Politicians fear that this approach would attract refugees to countries that have the highest living standards, but Dublin 3 already produces these imbalances without any of the benefits.

As the Syrian crisis spirals deeper into chaos, Europe remains more divided than ever. Hungary has announced plans to build a fence along its border with Serbia, while Bulgaria has enforced a brutal approach to curb irregular migration from Turkey.

Despite the UNHCR’s appeal to resettle a quota of Syrians from southern Europe to Scandinavia, few measures have been taken to address the root of the crisis as legal routes have yet to materialize.

If people have the fundamental right to claim asylum in Europe, then legal routes have to be provided for them to do so. Otherwise, more people will drown and more families will be torn apart.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!