The continent of Europe has not seen this kind of movement of people, since the end of the Second World War in the 1940’s. Millions of displaced migrants have arrived onto European shores in a mass exodus, coming from the war torn and economically devastated regions of North Africa and the Middle East. It is totally overwhelming many social services in the receiving countries and creating strife in normally culturally cohesive nations.
The last time there was a huge unplanned for influx of arrivals to the European Union, was at the end of the Cold War. It was the result of the removal of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Numbers reached 700,000, at its peak in 1992.
These new refugees are not evenly distributed, which makes absorbing them far more difficult. There are areas within individual countries and parts of Europe, where they are not welcome at all. A number of states in Eastern Europe have made it abundantly clear, that they will not accept these new arrivals despite treaty obligations.
The rising crime in the communities where the refugees have already settled, is providing further support to those political leaders and their constituents to maintain their refusal of admittance. The influential individuals who support the policy of open borders, are coming under increasing pressure as difficulties of assimilation mount.
The critical moment for the present crisis came, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in early September 2015, that there was no upper limit to the number of refugees that her country would accept.
The European Union (EU) nations are obliged by the Schengen Treaty, to allow the free movement of people within their borders. Therefore, the decision by Merkel would be a crucial moment not only for Germany, but for all of Europe.
As a tidal wave of migrants heeded her call, the European countries in the Mediterranean region, saw the numbers rise from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in the ensuing weeks. These legions of people escaping poverty and violence, quickly elicited alarm among officials in a number of countries, that control of the situation was rapidly being undone.
Chancellor Merkel had estimated an additional 800,000, would come to Germany at that time. More than a million would later arrive.
An additional 1.3 million migrants are expected this year and according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) at least as many in 2017. Of course Europe may well decide before then, that it can no longer absorb such relatively large numbers.
The flood of arrivals over the last two years, likely tipped the balance of those undecided voters in the United Kingdom who would favor Brexit. The political elite totally misjudged the growing anxiety the citizenry was experiencing, towards almost unfettered immigration.
Between 1993 and 2014 the foreign born population in the United Kingdom doubled from 3.8 million to around 8.3 million. In 2014 before the new wave of migrants,13.1% of the population was foreign born up from 7% in 1993. India and Poland top the list of origin for these new residents.
As the British electorate was able to view the almost unending line of people advancing on secondary roads on the mainland of Europe, it provided the perfect backdrop to those political leaders who favored an end to open borders.
The sheer numbers combined with fears that arrivals from the Middle East would be embedded with terrorists, rendered further evidence for nationalist leaders not only in the United Kingdom, but throughout the European Union that security was gravely at risk.
Rising incidences of terrorism throughout the European Union and the claim by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) that in fact terrorists were implanted among the refugees, helped fuel the present backlash that is now occurring in countries across Europe.
The recent rise in nationalist and far right parties in many parts of Europe, directly corresponds to the upsurge in migrants to the continent.
Politicians who supported the concept of allowing so many migrants into Europe, are already paying the cost at the ballot box. David Cameron the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, had tied his future to having his country remain in the European Union. When that effort failed, he felt compelled to resign.
Others leaders running for re-election in a number of countries, are now having to defend their previous position on allowing the massive influx of refugees. Socialist President Francois Hollande faces voters in April and May of 2017. Along with a stagnating economy, the issue of the migrants and terrorism in France, have made his chances of remaining in office increasingly unlikely.
The French electorate spent this past summer under a national state of emergency and rising fears, that the government might be incapable of dealing, with the security issues facing the nation. If the election were held today, the center right would win the contest overwhelmingly. Alain Juppe is now by far, the most popular political figure in France.
Most amazingly, further to the right nationalist Marine Le Pen is likely to survive the first round of voting. This would have been unthinkable, just a couple of years ago. Her position that France itself should hold a vote on whether to remain in the European Union, is gaining traction among the electorate. Such a perspective a few years ago, would of not been taken seriously.
In Austria, a close presidential election will be done over which now favors the candidate from the far right. Norbert Hofer who narrowly lost the previous election to Alexander Van der Bellen, is now projected to win in December. Voting irregularities had made this necessary, but it is now clear a rising proportion of the electorate, is moving away from open borders and the present refugee policy.
Germany remains at the epicenter of the migrant crisis in Europe. Since 2014, the country has taken in close to two million refugees. The country has taken far more refugees than any other country in Europe. Granted some of them will be denied status,if it is determined that they are economic migrants or come from other parts of Europe deemed safe.
Germany has already deported thousands of people that have come from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Southeastern European migrants are not not escaping political or religious persecution, so most of them are not entitled to refugee status.
Some question how will a country that geographically comprises 137,847 square miles (357,168 km2) and a population of over 80 million already, will be able to absorb and integrate millions of individuals that are ill prepared to be part of German society? It clearly is not a matter of logistics. At a population density of 583 inhabitants per square mile (227 km2), the nation can easily accommodate the numbers, if there is sufficient political will.
There are undoubtedly economic issues that are associated with the problem. The German economy remains strong, with an unemployment rate of 4.2% which is at a historic low. However, accommodating so many new arrivals will not be easy or cheap. It helps that the country ran a 19.4 billion Euro ($21.72 billion United States Dollar) surplus in the national budget last year.
However, the costs of assimilation will be large and ongoing. Germany which has a declining work force due to demographic pressures, could use new individuals entering the job market. The problem is that the current refugees, are not able to meet the needs of German businesses. At least 15% of the newcomers for example, are illiterate in their own language.
German officials have already estimated, that half of the refugees will still be unemployed after five years. A quarter of them, are fully expected to be without jobs even after twelve years.
As some national politicians continue to insist, the entire effort was the humanitarian thing to do. Although the majority of Germans may yet agree, given the unique burden of history for the country, but it is obviously becoming more controversial.
One only has to witness the major inroads the AfD (Alternative for Germany) is making in local elections, since it was founded in 2013. The party has a platform that is to the right of the mainstream, populist, nationalist and anti-immigrant. They are also highly Eurosceptic.
Even Chancellor Merkel in office since 2005, will find her fourth election next year more difficult. Her approval dropped as low as 47% and may dip even further. She at last admits, that if she had to do it over again, she would of accepted far fewer refugees. There is no doubt, that the drop in popularity is directly correlated to the refugee issue.
As late as the summer of 2015,it was widely viewed that there was no other credible choice for Chancellor. This is now beginning to change.
Along with Germany, Sweden is another top destination for refugees coming from the Mediterranean area. Per capita, Sweden had taken in more people than any other country in Europe,as well as any nation in the developed world last year.
As can be expected,Sweden is struggling to find sufficient resources to provide the extra housing, schools, and healthcare needed by the newcomers. Integrating such large numbers is becoming increasingly difficult and is causing some fractures in the normally cooperative political environment.
Although Sweden has a population of only 9.5 million, last fall it was receiving 10,000 refugees a week. As many as 160,000 arrived in 2015, which was close to 2% of the population in a years time.
Sweden projects that it will spend 7% of its $100 billion USD national budget on the refugee program this year. The figure is actually higher,since that does not include education and training for those already granted asylum.
This is double from the year before. Sensing that this is clearly unsustainable over the long term, Sweden is already limiting numbers, reducing benefits, and has passed legislation to suspend the Schengen agreement. At first this was temporary, but now seems open ended. In addition, the demand for travel documentation has significantly slowed the surge.
As Sweden is no longer accepting refugees in the same fashion as before, Denmark is preventing free passage through their country as well. The Danes are afraid they will end up with individuals, that Sweden will no longer accept. This same situation is spreading across Europe, as countries reassert control of their borders and interfere in the movement of people without European passports.
As in Germany, the issue in Sweden is the problem of integration. Neighborhoods have developed which have high concentrations of refugees, and resulting issues of crime and lawlessness. Most of the new arrivals are not employed, so there is evidence of rising hooliganism, especially among young men.
Although the government of Sweden will officially deny it, there are now 22 of what are known as No-Go Zones. These are areas that official personnel, police and emergency services no longer patrol and protect in the usual manner.
It has been reported that 751 such designated areas exist in France alone. They vary in size and consistency, but many of them attempt to enforce sharia law in these geographic areas. It is the same in parts of the United Kingdom and Germany as well. Depending on how they are defined, there may be as many as 900 or more such areas throughout Europe.
Even the normally tolerant Dutch are trying to close the gate. The Netherlands had about 57,000 refugees requesting asylum. Close to 47% of that number are from Syria. The government is trying to discourage migrants from coming, often by offering meager facilities in the centers where they stay. There is also the unusually extended amount of time in the asylum application process, as well as a lengthy operation for family reunification.
In Eastern Europe, a number of nations have refused to cooperate with the larger European Union plan, which is to distribute the refugees on a more equitable basis. It is to relieve some of the pressure on those countries, that have the highest proportion of them, particularly Germany.
Poland a nation of 40 million inhabitants, does not want to accept any migrants. They base the decision on security concerns. The country has accepted less asylum seekers per capita, than almost any other European nation. The Polish government also views it as a matter of sovereignty.
Bulgaria has already made it clear they will not accept any refugees. Hungary has also refused to participate in the quota plan to relocate some 160,000 migrants across Europe. Instead Prime Minster Viktor Orban has built a huge fence to seal his country’s borders.
Orban has stated publicly, that EU officials in Brussels have no right to redraw the cultural and religious identity of Europe. He has called for changing policy within the European Union, as the way to deal with the migrant crisis. The Prime Minister has now positioned himself as the defender of Christianity in Hungary and in Europe at large.
The attitude of many political leaders in this part of Europe, is that if they must accept any refugees at all, they want them to be Christian. They fear a major influx of Muslim refugees, because of what they are now witnessing in Western Europe, with regards to terrorism.
They also argue they can ill afford to take in migrants in any real numbers. The economic costs are just too prohibitive. These officials readily point to what is happening in Greece. That country already reeling with issues of debt and recession, is being totally overwhelmed by the migrant crisis.
The compromise proposed by EU officials is that those nations that refuse to admit refugees, ought to pay fines. They money thus raised, would then go to the countries that are accepting them.
The issue is causing a fracturing in the unity of the bloc. It is creating enmity between various countries, whose political leaders are being forced to respond to the anxiety and fears of their citizenry. Nations which have been mostly complaint to the many rules and regulations put in force by the bureaucracy of the European Union, are now pushing back. National leaders in many member states are at a loss, of what can be done to restore the continent to its previous equilibrium. That unfortunately, may no longer be possible.