Europe engulfed by migration crisis

Thousands of people are arriving in Europe from the Middle East and Africa, seeking a safe place to live and causing problems across the continent. Would welcoming them be the moral choice?

‘We are thousands here, where should we go?’

The young Syrian woman was among a large crowd gathered outside Keleti station in Hungary’s capital, Budapest. The police had evacuated the station to prevent her and others from boarding trains to Germany and Austria.

This was the setting for the latest instalment of a crisis which has engulfed Europe this summer. In Calais, thousands of people hoping to make their way to Britain have put themselves in danger and caused chaos for travellers by climbing fences and attempting to jump onto trains and lorries. 71 bodies believed to be Syrian migrants were found in an abandoned lorry in Austria last week. Boats full of people have regularly arrived on Greek and Italian islands, and more than 2,000 others have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year alone. Record numbers of migrants are now entering Europe.

On Tuesday, Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper called Britain’s response to the situation ‘immoral’. She argued that Britain should grant asylum (a safe place) to more of those fleeing the Middle East, saying the country could accept 10,000 people fleeing Daesh (IS, so-called ‘Islamic State’) in Syria and Iraq. To date, the country has only accepted 200 refugees from Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron responded yesterday that taking more refugees was unlikely to be productive, saying: ‘I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees’. He argued that the best response would be to strengthen the countries which people were coming from.

But others in Europe have been more welcoming. Germany expects to grant asylum to 800,000 people in 2015, and more than 780 ordinary people have signed up to Refugees Welcome, a website where citizens can share their homes with those in need. Over 11,000 Icelanders have also offered their homes to Syrian refugees in an effort to lift the government’s cap of just 50 asylum seekers each year.

A moral question

Commentators Will Hutton and Matthew Norman say that Germany is setting a moral example to Britain. The refugees are desperate people and many of them fear for their lives. As human beings, it is our duty to listen to the overwhelming impulse to help them and give them a home. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel says: ‘we will manage’.

But Paul Collier disagrees, saying that the moral duty is not to tempt people to believe the impossible. No country could ever welcome all who wish to come there; the solution lies in strengthening global societies, not placing strain on western ones. Western governments’ well-intended actions are making things worse by encouraging people to engage in reckless behaviour.

You Decide

  1. Should Britain accept more refugees?
  2. Is the morally right action to offer a home to those seeking sanctuary?


  1. Create a news report from Budapest, Calais or Austria on the migration situation there. Write the report or, if you have the means, present one for the radio or television news. Use the video from Budapest if you need inspiration.
  2. Write a letter to the heads of governments in Europe, outlining what you think they should do about the crisis and why. Use the links to help you.

Some People Say...

“Morality did not evolve to promote universal cooperation.”

Joshua Greene, psychology professor

What do you think?

Q & A

What impact will these refugees have on people like me?
Even before these migrants arrive, their stories have an impact on us: they prompt calls for action, whether by accepting these people into our countries or through other means. Their economic and cultural impact is more disputed: some are concerned that they will put the cohesiveness of European societies at risk, while others say that Europeans will learn and benefit from interacting with people who have endured humbling experiences.
What might happen next?
The end of summer may reduce the volume of people coming over; conditions for travel, across the Mediterranean in particular, will become harder over the winter. But the problem is unlikely to go away soon: the refugees’ countries of origin face deep, complex problems.

Word Watch

Hungary’s authorities, like others in the European Union (EU), are obliged to uphold EU rules. Among these is the idea that refugees should claim asylum in the first country in which they arrive, rather than being able to move around the EU and choose a country which they want to move to.
Record numbers
107,500 migrants seeking asylum arrived in July alone. This was the third consecutive month in which a record had been set and was significantly more than the number in June (70,000).
Only accepted 200 refugees
Britain has, however, promised to accept some more, and to fund refugee camps on the Syrian border for those fleeing the violence there.
Asylum seekers
Asylum seekers are refugee immigrants — those who have fled from dangerous situations, such as war and oppression, and who ask for protection and a safe place in the country in which they arrive. Currently, many come from war-torn countries such as Syria or those with oppressive regimes such as Eritrea. Many migrants are not asylum seekers or refugees, as they move for other reasons (for example, in order to do a job).

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