Closing the Door to Refugees in Europe


In 2015, over 1.3 million refugees fled the Middle East and Africa, seeking refuge in Europe after risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean. While Europe initially welcomed these refugees (albeit with a lukewarm reception in some cases), countries started to stem the flow of migrants by enforcing border walls. Hungary, for instance, erected walls to prevent flows from Serbia and Croatia. Austria has done the same, hardening its border with Slovenia.

As a result, the number of asylum claims received by EU countries has dropped precipitously over the past two years, with just 350,000 in 2016 and fewer arrivals by sea. But far from stopping the flow of migrants entirely, many are now caught just outside the European Union (EU), and are largely in limbo, caught between the countries that they are fleeing and opportunities in Europe. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates over 62,000 refugees are ‘stranded’ in Greece, unable to move northward into the European Union. Nearly 8,000 refugees are estimated to be stranded in Serbia and almost 5,000 in Bulgaria. The flows out of Africa and the Middle East continue.

Although flows from Turkey to Greece have largely been curtailed due to a deal between the EU and Turkey, Syrians continue to arrive. In fact, the Turkish government estimates some 2.8 million Syrians are living in refugee camps inside Turkey. Refugees and migrants continue to arrive in other countries as they try to enter the EU, but find that they cannot move further north. In Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Greece, the initial welcome extended to refugees has turned to hostility and fear. Vigilante groups have sprung up to protect borders in some locations, and some governments (including Hungary’s) have indicated that they will detain refugees and migrants.

Despite the border fences, policies designed to prevent refugees from entering the EU, and rising anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe, refugees and migrants continue to try to enter the EU – another example of the relative futility of border walls and a reminder that President Trump’s proposed border wall will with Mexico not fully stop the flow of migrants northward into the US (see my earlier blog post for January 27, 2017). Similarly, their continued arrival reinforces the desperation of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa, with many now taking longer and more dangerous sea crossings to enter the EU directly through Italy, or crossing borders in less patrolled locations.

Further Reading:

Mark MacKinnon. Thousands of Desperate Migrants Now Trapped in Limbo on Road to Hope. The Globe and Mail, 13 February 2017, p. A9. Available at:


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