In Depth

Refugee crisis: why so many risk all to reach Europe

War in Syria and a failed state in Libya have led to the biggest displacement of people in a generation

Europe is facing the biggest forced migration of people since the end of the Second World War and is struggling to develop a coherent response to the growing humanitarian crisis. 

Why are there so many refugees? 

War, conflict and violence in the Middle East and North Africa has displaced millions of people in recent years and forced refugees to make the dangerous sea journey across the Mediterranean or travel by road, rail or foot through the Balkans. Thousands have died and the death toll continues to rise as desperate refugees search for a route to safety. 

Where are they coming from?

The ongoing conflict in Syria lies at the heart of the crisis, with more than four million people having fled since the war began in 2011.The majority are living in refugee camps in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but hundreds of thousands have reached Europe. Meanwhile, the power vacuum in Libya has opened up a new gateway into the continent, one of which people-smugglers across North Africa have taken advantage. The rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and religious, ethnic and separatist conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, south-east Turkey, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and north-east Nigeria also continue to feed the crisis. Many of these conflicts show little sign of resolution – meaning more people will continue to flee in search of safety and few will feel safe enough to ever return home.

What can be done? 

The vast scale of the crisis means a global strategy is needed. "No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part," says the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC). It is calling on nations across Europe and the world to develop a common strategy based on responsibility, solidarity and trust. In the short term, governments in Europe are being urged to adhere to the EU's asylum policy and resettle as many refugees as possible to ease the burden on the countries inundated with the most people. In the long term; experts argue the huge flow of refugees will not stop until the root causes of the conflicts are addressed. 

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