Refugee crisis: should we really call them ‘refugees’?

Syria Refugees


Poor refugee camps are to blame for the recent mass exodus of migrants into Europe, not ISIS or any recent event in Syria.

“I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country” boomed the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, upon the arrival of thousands of refugees in his country. Mostly Syrian in origin, they are making their escape from the conflict to what they expect to be a better life.

Considering Hungary’s ‘welcoming’ approach, the tenacity of refugees seems a surprise. Yet more continue to make the treacherous crossing into Europe. The prospect of an improved economic situation, enshrined in the ‘Bright Lights’ theory, is encouraging the population movement.

The European Union estimates that the movement of refugees will generate a need for 200,000 new places by the end of this year. A quota system for European countries was proposed, and later rejected, as some countries’ ‘Bright Lights’ have dimmed. Spain, for example, suffers from an unemployment level of 22.7%, according to Eurostat. The local population will find it hard to swallow any increase in the existing labour force into an already overstaffed economy. It would create an unsatisfactory situation for both recipient countries and refugees.

The current exodus takes the refugees through the East Mediterranean-Western Balkans route. It flows from Turkey, through Greece, and then onwards via ex-Yugoslavia to Western and Central Europe. Cries of “Germany! Germany!” heard from those stranded on Hungary’s apathetic rail network imply the favoured destination.


Where are these migrants coming from?

Although they are largely Syrian nationals, many of them have previously been settled in Turkey. When the civil war first broke out in Syria many escaped into neighbouring states. The Ankara government exercised an open-door policy, allowing 2 million Syrians to seek sanctuary.

This has led to the expenditure of over $5.6 billion by the Ankara government in humanitarian aid within its borders. This includes the establishment of camps, a monthly stipend of $30 to each person within a camp, free education, and free healthcare.

The welcoming attitude of the country has been applauded worldwide, as rich Gulf monarchies remain indifferent to the crisis.

Nonetheless, Syrian refugees are now beginning to move on.

Khaled, who fled Damascus in 2012, told Al Jazeera that “camps are too bad nowadays.” Four out of five refugees in Turkey already live outside them despite financial incentives, in response to worsening conditions.

Their woes are added to, as the $30 stipend is an insufficient amount with which to feed a family. Some have tried to increase their income through work. In 2014 thousands of new businesses were opened by Syrians in Turkey. Many refugees have, similarly, exhibited a tenacious attitude in existing places of employment. Trained doctors and engineers have been willing to accept work as builders or handymen.

However, what additional work that they have found has proved to be poorly paid and cyclically available. When coupled with local resentment due to competition for jobs and houses, an uncomfortable situation has emerged. Inadequate income, no future prospects and ever-growing local hostility is encouraging many refugees to move on.

These people desirous of resettling are mostly refugees that have left Syria a while ago, they are not new migrants.


There has been no rise in the number of people leaving Syria.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, migration rates were high until the end of 2014, once 3.7 million people had left Syria. Since then emigration has continued but at a lower rate. The figure only hit 4 million in the middle of 2015.

This implies that the vast majority of people who were going to leave Syria have already done so. The current migrants to Europe are more likely refugees that have already tried to build themselves a new life in Turkey.

Under this observation, European Union Law would have to treat them as ‘Economic Migrants’. The EU immigration glossary defines an Economic Migrant as “a person who leaves his or her country of origin purely for economic reasons”.

However, controversy emerges over considering Turkey as their country of origin. With no political solution in site, it remains impossible to return home.

“All Syrians staying here would go back to Syria if the war ended”, commented Ahmed, a former resident of Syria, to an Al Jazeera correspondent.

Photograph: Freedom House via Flickr 

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