Massive refugee influx, collapsed borders, and humanitarian crisis: Quo Vadis EU?

In 2015, over one million people, mostly refugees, arrived at the shores of Europe, mostly in Turkey and Greece but also Italy, and mostly with the help of ‘smugglers’ usually aiming to move on to the northern EU countries. In 2016, the influx was prolonged by the arrival of often women and children. They usually entered clandestinely, turned up at, sometimes demonstrated and occasionally even overrun border controls until these were subsequently abandoned under the sheer weight of large numbers. The absence of save routes and the lack of an adequate reception system, hence policy failure temporarily resulted in humanitarian emergencies. Social and policy responses were mixed involving some laisser fair and resilience in Turkey and Greece, erratic opening and closing of borders, announcements of measures such as relocation that were never implemented and an initially partly welcoming spirit that is successively complemented by a hostile backlash. Regaining controls has come at a high price. Core principles of the EU such as freedom of movement, human and refugee rights are jeopardised. All this has been conceptualised as a multifaceted crisis, a crisis of violence and war in the neighbourhood of Europe, a refugee crisis, a crisis of border controls, a crisis of the EU refugee reception regime, a humanitarian crisis and subsequently a crisis of the EU. Meanwhile the macro-level context of the arrival and integration of one million people in the context of ageing and shrinking populations is not much discussed. This presentation offers fresh analysis from an ESRC-funded project, unravels the flows, the mixed motivations, the impact of policies as well as the multiple causes and dimensions of the crisis and subsequently reframes some of the conventional perspectives.