Since 2015 more than five million refugees have entered the European Union (EU) from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Refugees seeking asylum cross the Mediterranean Sea and then enter the EU through Southern Europe. The current refugee crisis is principally driven by the ongoing Syrian conflict and has no end in sight.
The sheer volume of refugees fleeing Syria mostly has created substantial problems for the EU. First, the route taken by migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe is dangerous. In 2015 alone more than 3770 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The EU has been forced to patrol to the waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to prevent more deaths.
The influx of immigrants into the EU has also precipitated heated debates over immigration laws and has sparked a new wave of nationalist rhetoric within European countries. These sentiments are best exemplified by Brexit in 2016. At the same time there has been tension among EU member states over the disproportionate burden faced by Italy, Greece, and Hungary, the states through which most migrants enter Europe.
In 2016 the EU drafted the beginnings of a framework to resettle refugees. As of September 2017, EU member states had submitted 14,000 pledges to resettle refugees. The Commission ruled that 14,000 pledges would not have a significant impact on the refugee crisis. It recommended that each member state offer at least 50,000 places to resettle refugees by October 2019.
The new resolution would lessen the burden on Mediterranean member states by replacing the Dublin accord, which mandated that refugees be resettled in the country in which they first landed.
The EU resolution was met with heavy resistance from Eastern and Central European member states. The Fidesz Party in Hungary and the Law and Justice Party in Poland came to power on anti-Muslim immigration policies. In September Hungary and Slovakia challenged the proposed accord in the European Court of Justice with Polish support. The Court ruled against Slovakia and Hungary.
Despite the Court’s ruling, Hungary and Poland have maintained their fierce opposition to the policy. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called the ruling “appalling and irresponsible”. Critics of the accord claim that influx of refugees across the European Union threatens the cohesion and safety of the entire region. The accord is not only unpopular among Eastern and Central European politicians, but among their publics as well. The vast majority of citizens polled in Eastern and Central European member states say that their countries should not accept any Syrian refugees.
While few EU member states have met their relocation quota, states in Eastern and Central Europe such as Poland and Hungary have actively touted the accord. In total the region has resettled less than 300 refugees. Poland and Hungary have failed to resettled even a single person.
The conflict has opened a wide rift in relations between East and Central European member states and Western European member states. The European commission has taken legal action against Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for failing to adhere to the accord. The commission stated that for some countries to tout their responsibilities would force other member states to shoulder an unfair burden. Therefore, sanctions are needed to ensure that each country fulfills its quota.
Ivan Krastev, a scholar on East Central Europe posits that the difference in rhetoric toward refugees employed in Eastern and Western European Member states comes in part from the different histories of the two regions. In Eastern Europe failure to integrate ethnic minorities into the social fabric of the state led to instability and civil war.