The Repercussions of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on European Security

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Country historically known for massive displacement of people, Germany is still in the spotlight of mass migration in this day and age. Far different from the forced displacements of the Holocaust, the modern Syrian refugee crisis in Europe has impacted Germany the most out of the members of the European Union. From a unified national standpoint of accepting immigrants, to political unrest and social discomfort after accepting more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, Germany would be in problems if another migrant crisis were to happen in these moments. However, it seems that the threats made by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a few weeks ago of releasing the more than 3 million refugees in their border into Europe could bring a second Syrian refugee crisis. In case this scenario happens, would Germany be able to resist a new refugee crisis in Europe? To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the origins of the problem, the historical background of Germany in the modern era, analyze the effects of the 2016 Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, and how it could change German politics for the next years to come. During the next essay, we will analyze the possible outcomes of a new refugee crisis, the reasons why Germany could or could not resist a new wave of immigration and what that would mean to the European Union as a whole.

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To begin with, it is important to analyze the source of the problem; the refugee crisis of 2016 could be said that was a real exodus. This term is a curious concept. Not only is it the title of the second book of the Pentateuch in the Bible, but it is also a word used to explain massive migration from one place to another. According to Cambridge Dictionary (2019), it is defined as “the movement of a lot of people or things away from a place”. Generally, an exodus occurs in history after a natural disaster, regional political instability and even comes from problems caused in a country’s socioeconomic system. In Syria’s case, this all began in March 15, 2011 as the Syrian civil war officially began. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019) states: Although it is impossible to pinpoint when the uprising turned from a predominately peaceful protest movement into a militarized rebellion, armed clashes became increasingly common, and by September 2011 organized rebel militias were regularly engaging in combat with government troops in cities around Syria. The Free Syrian Army, a rebel umbrella group formed by defectors from the Syrian army in July, claimed leadership over the armed opposition fighting in Syria, but its authority was largely unrecognized by the local militias.

Eight years after the conflict began, more than half a million Syrians have been killed, more than a million have suffered some kind of injuries and more than half of the country’s population before the war started have been forced to move their place of living. Be it inside the country or needing to flee to neighboring countries and with hopes, get to Europe. According to information from the organization World Division (2019), nearly 12 million people in the country need humanitarian assistance. About 6.7 million Syrians are now refugees, and another 6.2 million are displaced within Syria being almost half of the affected persons children.

All of these factors have collaborated to create the biggest displacement of people in the recent history of humanity, which reached its peak starting from 2015. According to information of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “An estimated 362,000 refugees and migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, with 181,400 people arriving in Italy and 173,450 in Greece. In the first half of 2017, over 105,000 refugees and migrants entered Europe”. All of these people did so with the hopes of securing a better future for their families when more than 1 million people applied for asylum in Europe. In response more than 15 members of the European Union openly welcomed the Syrian refugees. According to Connor and Krogstad (2016), “Germany received the most asylum seekers of any European country. But because of its large population, its foreign-born share rose by an estimated 0.7 percentage points to 15.6% in 2016, a substantial but significantly smaller increase than in other European countries”. All this comes after the declarations made by the German Chancellor “when Merkel welcomed nearly 1 million migrants and refugees as part of what she had christened Germany’s ‘Willkommenskultur’, or culture of welcoming.” 

It was under this notion, and Angela Merkel’s now famous moto Wir schaffen das! Or “We can do this!” that the German people united in the efforts of incorporating and giving asylum to the Syrian people. After all, in this post World War II era, the focus of the German government has always been to shift historical memory of the world from the Nazi party into a unified country that is the friend of the world. Evidence of this can be found in one of the most important parts of the German national anthem and its proclamation: Flourish, German Fatherland! Even if today it can be heard in all major international events like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, few national anthems in the world are as controversial as the “Deutschlandlied”. Little did August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben know, German university professor and author of the song, that the lyrics that he wrote in August 1841 would give the world something to discuss and talk about up to 1991. The controversial first verse of Hoffmann’s original national anthem which states: “Germany, Germany above all” was originally intended to be a call of unification for all the different German principalities during his time. However, it became almost like a state slogan for the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or Nazi, party during the first decades of the twentieth century. After World War II and the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, only the third verse would remain as the official national anthem that is still used to this day. It is this same idea of unification between regionally different states sharing a common German culture that created the European country as we now know it today.

All said and done, it seems that the refugee crisis today has almost been forgotten. What used to be almost everyday in the front pages of very different newspapers, online articles and even adds and videos in social media has died in the last year to a really almost invisible point. However, as stated before there has been a new development in the world that brought the attention to everyone in the world back to the topic. For millennia, Istanbul has always been the gateway between the eastern and western world. The once mighty capital of the byzantine empire, Constantinople, has served as a barrier to prevent the entrance of invaders to Europe ever since the emperor Constantine the Great moved the Roman capital of the eastern empire to the Bosporus strait which separates the two continents. Even after the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the city and moved his capital there, its strategic importance didn’t lessen. Fast forward to the end of the Great War in 1918 and the Ottoman Empire became the modern country of Turkey. Along this change, the city’s name changed to what we know as the city of Istanbul. Thousands of years of history are present in the city’s architecture and culture, but still the strategic importance that it holds today in modern politics is present. After the coup attempt of 2016, the sentiment of the Turkish government has changed from a somewhat difficult ally to the west, to full on opposition. The country’s government felt betrayed by the United States and the European Union, marking a before and after on international diplomatic relations. Instead of being a contender to become a new member of the European Union, Turkey now threatens to give weapons to radical refugees in Turkey and releasing them into Europe through Greece if they are not able to get away with their wanted attack and conquest of Northern Syria and is natural gas fields near Cyprus.

After the European Union imposed economic sanctions in the Turkish country for drilling off the cost of Cyprus, Erdogan spoke the following words: “Hey EU, know this: Turkey is not one of those countries you have come to know until now. We are a country that sits at the negotiating table with you, […] these negotiations may suddenly end”. Since the European Union relies on the capital Ankara, which hosts more than 3.5 million refugees to stop the migrants into Europe following an agreement from 3 years ago to stop the people trying to escape through the Aegean Sea, it seems that Erdogan’s threats could really hurt Europe. However, for the purpose of this essay, we will simply analyze what would happen to Germany in the case the Turkish president’s words become true. Following the agreement made by the European Union and Turkey, the public has not been satisfied by how both governments handled the arrival of people. Just to state some facts the Pew Research Center (2016) states the following: Disapproval was generally greatest in countries with the highest number of asylum seekers in 2015. For example, 94% of Greeks and 88% of Swedes said they disapprove of how the EU has handled the refugee issue. Sweden received the third highest number of asylum applications in 2015. And while Greece was not the final destination for most refugees in 2015, it was their main point of entry, with about 850,000 arrivals in 2015 alone.

In this study, it was found that Germany was the leading destination of the asylum seekers during the crisis. This coming from the international notion that Germany is a safe and prosperous country with liberal asylum laws, a strong connection and presence of different cultures in the country that have been building since decades ago, acting as a pull for new arrivals of people that might feel more safe in a cultural community from their country of origin. This sudden influx of people accounted to more than a 1% increase in the country’s population. However, the part that kept the German country interested in accepting applications was the labor workforce potential. According to information given by Stefan Trines, from the World Education Services (WES) organization (2017) 65% of the asylum seekers in the country were male, more than 50 percent of the total were below the age of 24, and around a quarter of the refugees were children below the age of 15.

All of this is a huge humanitarian effort and relief to the Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees. However, it can lead one to think that maybe not everything comes from a humanitarian point of view. This sudden influx of refugees to the country has caused one of the biggest populations increases in the last couple of decades, boosting the amount of people living in the country by more than 1%. Considering the fact that Germany saw an inverted bell curve of population starting from the beginnings of the twenty first century, the idea of a sudden increase in its workforce is really attractive for the economy. It is for this reason, that the German government  

07 April 2022

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