“…the or war · Environmental causes of migration

“…the protection of refugees is not only the
responsibility of neighboring States of a crisis; it is a collective
responsibility of the international community.”                                                                                       – Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General


Migration of humans from one
place or country to another has been one of the most important factors of our
evolutionary history. People migrate for many different reasons. These reasons
can be classified as economic, social, political or environmental 1:

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migration –  moving to find work or
follow a particular career path

migration –  moving somewhere for a
better quality of life or to be closer to family or friends

migration –  moving to escape
political persecution or war

Environmental causes
of migration include natural disasters such as flooding

people choose to migrate, for example, someone who moves to another
country to enhance their career opportunities. Some people
are forced to migrate, for example, someone who moves due to war or
famine. Migration is instigated by various pull and push factors:

Push factors – They are the reasons why people leave an area. They include:

Lack of services

Lack of safety

High crime

Crop failure





Pull factors – They are the
reasons why people move to a particular area. They include:

Higher employment

More wealth

Better services

Good climate

Safer, less crime

Political stability

More fertile land

Lower risk of natural hazards

Migration generally happens as a result of a
combination of these push & pull factors.

Fig. 1 Relationship between push and pull factors 1

The current migration crisis
is the worst since World War II. 3 The global refugee population is the highest on
record. It stood at 22.5 million at the end of 2016, including 5.3 million
Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate, and is now at the highest level
ever recorded. 10 In the period 2015-16, more than 50% of the asylum
seekers in Europe came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq (Refer Fig. 2) by
taking dangerous routes to their destination countries. 14 There are
two main reasons for their journeys being so deadly: the exploitative criminal
networks that move the refugees for high fees but offer them little safety, and
the Western governments that have tolerated these dangers, at times
as part of a deliberate effort to discourage refugees from attempting the
journey. In 2014, for instance, the UK cut funding for the Mare Nostrum
search-and-rescue operations that saved an estimated 150,000 people in one
year, saying the rescues encouraged more people to make the crossing. The
Italian government ended the operation in November. Since then, it has been
replaced by the EU’s far more limited Frontex program, which only patrols
within 30 miles of the border and does not have a search-and-rescue mission.
The result, predictably, has been deadly: An estimated 2,500 people had already
died till the summer of 2015. What percentage of refugees actually chose these
deadly paths to reach the European countries?

Fig. 2 Top
10 origins of countries for asylum in the EU 11

Developing regions continued
to share a disproportionately large responsibility for hosting refugees. 3 Nine of the
top 10 refugee-hosting countries were in developing regions (Refer Fig.3). Although the European countries, except
Turkey, host the least number of refugees, the crisis has had far greater
impact and this issue is at the heart of Europe’s political and social crisis.
Three years after more than a million people made their way to Europe in the
largest arrival of migrants from outside the continent in its history, European
institutions and governments still struggle to find solutions and so do a vast
percentage European citizens in accepting the refugees. 

Fig. 3
Major refugee-hosting countries 3

4 A study conducted by Chatham House Europe Programme
between 12 December 2016 and 11 January 2017, found that a majority
of Europeans want a ban on immigration from
Muslim-majority countries. An average of 55 per cent of people across the 10
European countries surveyed wanted to stop all future immigration from mainly
Muslim countries. (Refer Fig. 4) A ban was supported by 71 per cent of people
in Poland, 65 per cent in Austria, 53 per cent in Germany and 51 per cent in
Italy. In no country did more than 32 per cent disagree with a ban. What could be the potential
reasons for such an amount of hatred?

Fig. 4 A Chatham
House survey result 4

The groundswell of
Islamophobia, which began in earnest with the “war on terror” after 9/11
and has gathered pace since 2015, has made Muslims the “new Jews” of
Europe. As Europe was grappling with the new situation, on the eve of 31st
December, 2016, more than 1,200 women were sexually assaulted in various German
cities, including more than 600 in Cologne and about 400 in Hamburg. More than
2,000 men were allegedly involved, 6 including some newly arrived asylum seekers and many
other immigrants. 7In one survey commissioned by Austria’s Foreign
Ministry of recent migrants’ attitudes, it was found that almost half of
refugees in Austria think religious law is more important than that of the
country in which they live. A similar percentage thought Western people were
too liberal in their lifestyles and had too much freedom. One in five said
women should not be allowed to work. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they
wanted separated gymnastics and swimming lessons for boys and girls in schools.
This stark contrast in the way people from the West and the Muslims look at
things has created room for tensions between the two communities, which has
been further aggravated by the massive influx of immigrants from the Muslim-majority
countries. This has also had significant and profound impact on the political
situation in Europe and abroad.

8 In Germany, the populist radical-right Alternative
for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament,
but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%,
an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover,
both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst
electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This
means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote. The
question is, how a party, which is barely five years old, take such a big leap?
Polls from German state TV showed that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s
immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens);
85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is
enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration
was the number one issue in these elections.

Austria witnessed a similar
shift to the right wing. 9 This month Austria became the only western European
country with a far-right presence in government after Sebastian Kurz, of the
conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP), struck a deal with the Freedom party (FPÖ), a nationalist group founded after the
second world war by former members of the Nazi party. A similar trend was
witnessed in other European countries with the Dutch Freedom party and the
French Front National gaining tractions at the height of the hysteria over the
“refugee crisis”. 12 In the US too, its populist President Donald Trump signed
an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring
people from seven Muslim-majority countries. It called for an indefinite ban on
Syrian refugees and anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries –
Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – faced a 90-day visa
suspension. The order also introduces a cap of 50,000 refugees to be
accepted in 2017, against a limit of 110,000 set by former President Barack
Obama. This is certainly not what the refugees had dreamt of while they left
their home countries and walked for hundreds of kilometers in search of peace,
security and love in these countries. So, what went wrong in between when the
EU countries opened the doors for the refugees and the sudden rise of right
wing populism and hatred for them?

13 Understanding public attitudes towards refugees and migrants
within their host communities is becoming an increasingly important task for
those working on refugee and migration issues. Data from the European Social
Survey shows a clear hierarchy of preferences towards different countries of origin
(Heath and Richards, 2016). This is most likely an issue of cultural and ethnic
difference; in the UK, for instance, people have consistently been more opposed
to refugees and migrants who are non-white and more culturally distinct. The
public also tends to expect greater social and economic contributions from
migrants coming from a different ethnic origin. Certain ethnic and religious
groups fare particularly badly. Multiple studies show Roma to be the most
unwelcome group across Europe (Heath and Richards, 2016; Wike et al., 2016),
followed by Muslims (Heath and Richards, 2016; Bansak et al., 2016), This pattern
was also visible in the Chatham House survey mentioned earlier. A 2016 poll by
the Brookings Institution showed much less openness in the United States
towards refugees from the Middle East, compared to other regions (Telhami,
2016). This clearly indicates that the current refugee crisis is more about
‘cultural crisis’ taking place in Europe.


It is not only the ‘tide’ of
migrants reaching the European shores, but also a tide of dissimilar culture
entering the West, which would be looked at by some (especially nationalist)
people as a threat to transform the continent and its Western heritage. Germany
has taken in over one million refugees since the crisis started. However, the
people of Germany, and other European countries facing similar crisis, were not
mentally prepared for such a dramatic change in their country, their cities and
in their neighborhoods. And then, there were series of sexual assaults on
German women and girls by some of these asylum-seekers. Who would ever believe
that these were the people who ran away from their war-torn countries to save
their life or find a safe place to live in? The sexual hunger of a few refugees
certainly overran this danger for their lives. Moreover, the survey commissioned
by Austria’s Foreign Ministry of recent migrants’ attitudes (discussed above)
clearly shows the apathy of the refugees to adapt to the new environment they
are in even though the governments are spending huge amounts of money to ensure
their safety and security in Europe and providing the asylum-seekers monthly a
certain amount to take care of their food, housing and clothing. They want the
strict Islamic Sharia law in Austria. It clearly seems an incorrect demand of
the highest order, from people who come to a country to seek refuge, but then
start expecting to change the whole system of that country. 15 This fear of
Europeans can be clearly seen in a Pew Research Center survey in 2016. For some
Europeans, negative attitudes toward Muslims are tied to a belief that Muslims
do not wish to participate in the broader society. In every country polled, the
dominant view is that Muslims want to be distinct from the rest of society
rather than adopt the nation’s customs and way of life. Six-in-ten or more hold
this view in Greece, Hungary, Spain, Italy and Germany (Refer Fig. 5)

Fig. 5 A
Pew Research Center survey illustrating what Europeans say about the readiness
of Muslims in their country to adapt to its customs 15

At the same time, attacks in
Paris and Brussels have fueled public fears about terrorism. As the Pew
Research Center survey illustrates, the refugee crisis and the threat of
terrorism are very much related to one another in the minds of many
Europeans. In eight of the 10 European nations
surveyed, half or more believe incoming refugees increase the likelihood of
terrorism in their country. Many
are also worried that they will be an economic burden. Half or more in five nations say
refugees will take away jobs and social benefits. Hungarians, Poles, Greeks, Italians and French
identify this as their greatest concern.

Fig. 6 A
Pew Research Center survey illustrating concerns of Europeans regarding
refugees 15

From the above statistics, it
is clear that the refugees need to do their part. They must be aware of the
fact that they ‘chose’ to come to the Western countries and thus, they must try
to understand their culture and to co-exist with it. This will not be easy to
do for someone who is fleeing a war and trying to find a safe place. The
European governments should therefore ensure that they provide ‘Integration’
programs to the respective refugees as soon as the government decides to
provide them refuge in their country. Referring to the Pew survey, they also
found out that Europeans consider language as the most fundamental component of
national identity. 15 Across the 10 EU countries surveyed, a median of 97%
think that being able to speak the national language is important for truly being
able to identify with their nationality. A median of 77% say this is very important
(Refer Fig. 7). There is also a strong cultural component to national
identity. A median of 86% believe sharing national customs and traditions is
important, with 48% saying this is very important (Refer Fig. 7).  Thus,
if the refugees are taught the national language and the customs and
traditions, it will be much easier for them to integrate into the new society. There
are several volunteers, churches and groups who are trying to help the refugees
in their own way by teaching them the local language. The government can
integrate their efforts, train and fund them as necessary and ensure that it
generates the maximum output by reaching as many refugees as possible.

Fig. 7 A Pew Research Center survey illustrating importance
of certain parameters for national identity for Europeans 15

Parallelly the governments
should inform and educate the citizens staying in each neighborhood which will
host the refugees about their countries of origin and their cultural habits, so
that the natives are not greeted with a shock when they see something that they
are not used to. It will definitely take some time for the refugees to
understand and integrate into the new culture. And during this period, the
support of the natives is extremely crucial and they should avoid being hostile
to the refugees. To conclude, it is seen that coexistence of the different
cultures of European countries and the refugees is possible if both sides
understand the concerns and cultural differences of each other and try to find
a point of confluence to establish harmony with each other.



1 BBC. Migration Trends. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/geography/migration/migration_trends_rev2.shtml

2 European Parliament. EU migrant crisis: facts and figures
(2017). Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20170629STO78630/eu-migrant-crisis-facts-and-figures

3 UNHCR, The UN Refugee
Agency. Global trends – Forced displacement
in 2016

4 Independent. Most Europeans want immigration ban from Muslim-majority
countries, poll reveals (2017). Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/most-europeans-want-muslim-ban-immigration-control-middle-east-countries-syria-iran-iraq-poll-a7567301.html

5 Independent. 2,000 men ‘sexually assaulted 1,200 women’
at Cologne New Year’s Eve party (2016). Available at:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/cologne-new-years-eve-mass-sex-attacks-leaked-document-a7130476.html

6 The New York Times. As Germany Welcomes Migrants, Sexual Attacks
in Cologne Point to a New Reality (2016). Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/world/europe/as-germany-welcomes-migrantssexual-attacks-in-cologne-point-to-a-new-reality.html

7 Mail Online. Almost half of refugees in Austria think
religious law is more important… (2017). Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4163742/Almost-half-refugees-think-religious-law-important.html

8 The Guardian. What the stunning success of AfD means for
Germany and Europe (2017). Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/24/germany-elections-afd-europe-immigration-merkel-radical-right

9 The Guardian. ‘It’s been looming over us for decades’:
Austrian voters on the far-right (2017). Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/23/its-been-looming-over-us-for-decades-austrian-voters-on-the-far-right

10 The Guardian. More than a million of Europe’s asylum
seekers left in limbo (2017). Available at: 

11 BBC. Migrant crisis: Migration to
Europe explained in seven charts (2016). Available at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911

12 BBC. Trump’s executive order: Who does travel ban affect? (2017).
Available at:   http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38781302

13 Chatham House. Understanding public attitudes towards
refugees and migrants (pdf) – Helen Dempster and Karen Hargrave

14 Vox. The refugee crisis: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask
(2015). Available at: https://www.vox.com/2015/9/9/9290985/refugee-crisis-europe-syrian

15 Pew Research Center. Europeans Fear Wave of Refugees Will Mean
More Terrorism, Fewer Jobs (2016). Available at:  http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/