Refugees in Europe: Breaking down the crisis

The story

The European Union is dealing with the worst refugee and migrant crisis since WWII.

Psst...what's the difference between a migrant and a refugee?

Refugees are forced to flee home to escape things like war. Migrants leave home voluntarily to try to make their lives better with a new job or education.

How did this all start?

Countries surrounding the EU -- in the Mideast and Africa -- have not been ideal places to live recently. Think: weak economies, a little thing called ISIS, and a brutal civil war in Syria (here’s your Skimm). Most refugees are coming from Syria, and trying to find shelter in the EU.

How are they getting to the EU?

Not easily. Some of them are paying smugglers for spots on overcrowded fishing boats or inflatable dinghies. And some of them are paying smugglers for spots on overcrowded trains or buses. Thousands of them have died while trying to make it to the EU.

What's been done?

For a while, not much. After a boat capsized between Libya and Italy in 2015, killing up to 900 migrants, the EU decided to figure out a new strategy. Leaders met to discuss how to distribute migrants and refugees. But it turned into a game of ‘not it,’ with many countries arguing that if they started letting people in, more would come knocking.

So what changed?

Millions of migrants and refugees kept knocking, and EU countries kept turning a blind eye. Then in 2015, everyone saw photos of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on a beach in Turkey. That, plus the massive numbers of migrant and refugee deaths, made EU leaders decide they better shape up.

What now?

In 2015, the EU agreed to redistribute 160,000 refugees across its member countries. Key word: refugees. These are people who’ve fled home because of war or persecution. But the plan hasn't exactly been a runaway success. Less wealthy nations like Hungary and Greece have been more reluctant to give refugees a home. But Germany's rolled out the biggest welcome mat. In late 2015 under President Obama, the US volunteered to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees. Then in 2016, the US raised its hand again and said 'actually, we'll take even more.' But President Trump hasn't been as enthusiastic. After a LOT of legal back and forth, a version of his travel ban – which keeps certain refugees from several Muslim- majority countries from entering the US – went into effect.

Anything else?

Now, the crisis has gotten so bad that the EU has started giving cash money incentives to places like Africa and Turkey. It’s hoping this will help these places deal with the crisis and keep migrants and refugees from flooding into Europe. The catch? A lot of people in the EU didn't like the way leaders handled the migrant and refugee crisis. Many of them felt that letting in so many migrants and refugees would increase the threat of terrorism and impact the economy. And they took their frustration to the polls. Cue: populism. Aka the anti-immigration, anti-establishment political parties that are suddenly the popular kids. Psst...we Skimm'd it for you.

Is that it?

Nope. This is the crisis that never endsss. Except recently, fewer migrants from Libya have been knocking on Italy's door. Some think the slowdown in migration is because of a new armed group in Libya - reportedly made up of civilians, policemen, and members of the army - that's pressuring smugglers to stand down on their operations.


Millions of people have been forced to leave their homes in recent years. And many of them are coming from Syria, where the war shows no signs of hitting ‘pause’ anytime soon. Meanwhile the EU is still trying to figure out how to handle so many migrants and refugees. So it’s in for a lot of all-nighters to agree on a concrete plan.

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