‘Medieval’ Europe polarised by migrant crisis

Run: Police fired tear gas at migrants who breached security in Calais last week. © PA

The refugee and migration crisis has brought chaos to different corners of Europe this weekend. As attitudes across the continent become polarised, will the EU survive the mounting pressure?

On Saturday afternoon, a migration crisis which began in the Middle East and Africa brought the port of Calais, on the northern coast of France, to a standstill. About 50 people broke on to a ferry, causing the suspension of crossings to Dover.

They were among some 2,500 refugees and migrants who now live in camps near Calais. The charity Médecins Sans Frontières has described conditions in the camps as ‘deplorable’, and winter has prompted many residents to make often dangerous attempts to escape to the UK.

On the other side of Europe, bodies were being pulled from the Aegean Sea this weekend. At least 42 migrants, including many children, had died in shipwrecks while travelling from Turkey to Greece the previous day.

But Europeans’ willingness to accept new arrivals appears to be waning after the Paris terror attacks and a string of sexual assaults, attributed to men ‘of Arab or North African appearance’, in some European cities. In Cologne in Western Germany, hundreds of women have filed complaints after a gang of around 1,000 men congregated at the city’s train station on New Year’s Eve.

More than a million refugees arrived in Germany during 2015, mostly after German Chancellor Angela Merkel waived EU rules on asylum applications. In contrast, Hungary, Slovenia and Macedonia have recently built fences to deter migrants; Sweden’s prime minister has said ‘we simply cannot do any more’; and last week, Austria announced it would cap the number of people allowed to apply for asylum.

The current crisis has strained the EU’s traditions of offering sanctuary and allowing people to move freely within its borders. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned last week of a ‘very grave danger’ to ‘the concept of Europe that our founding fathers had’, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared that the EU ‘cannot cope with the numbers any longer’. Meanwhile, campaigners for Britain to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum have cited events in Paris and Cologne as evidence in favour of their case.

Who are EU?

Robert Kaplan of the Wall Street Journal now says the map of Europe ‘is becoming medieval again’. Power is increasingly divided; individual nation states are demanding more control over their affairs and anti-EU movements are on the rise. This crisis is reversing the integration of Europe, which previously seemed like an inevitable, one-way process.

But Professor of Political Science Ronald Tiersky disagrees. The EU has faced crises before – only last year, observers predicted Greece’s debt would fatally undermine it. But after centuries of rivalry, its people are committed to working together. They will have to work together to make the EU survive.

You Decide

  1. Would you accept someone into your home if you felt they were in a desperate plight?
  2. Is European integration inevitable?


  1. Research the history of migration in your own family. Have members of your family moved from one country, city or region to another? When and why did they move?
  2. Look up someone you admire, either from the influential 500 (under Become An Expert) or elsewhere. Study their life story and prepare a short presentation on what you can and cannot learn from them about migration.

Some People Say...

“The world does not need borders.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t the EU a bit removed from my life?
The EU is one of the most significant political institutions set up since the Second World War. The question of whether it survives is about more than just remote or dry political structures. It is about how much political power should lie at a national level and how much should be at a supranational one (meaning it transcends national boundaries or governments). It is also about whether a European identity exists.
What about those of us who don’t live in Europe?
The EU is not the only example of states sharing power in the belief it will be in their best interests. The UN may take less power from each state, but it does lay down international law. Bodies such as the Organisation of American States are also founded on similar principles to the EU.

Word Watch

This is according to Médecins Sans Frontières‎, which adds that most are Kurds from Iran, Syria and Iraq who hope to reach the UK. Around 250 are children.
MSF says the camps are cramped, muddy and lacking electricity, heating and adequate water or sanitation.
More than 100 people have already died making that crossing this year. Yesterday Greek islanders who have helped to rescue people from the sea were nominated for the Nobel peace prize.
For example, a poll by YouGov between 8 and 11 January found that 60% of German men and 63% of German women felt the number of asylum seekers in the country was ‘already too high’. In November, the respective figures were 55% and 51%.
Paris terror attacks
Some reports have suggested that one of the attackers entered Europe disguised as a refugee. Suspects were also able to travel across borders within Europe, both before and after the attacks.
EU rules
These require asylum seekers to apply in the first country they enter.
EU member states committed themselves to the Common European Asylum System in 1999.


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