Bridges, Walls, and Multilateral Negotiations: How Europe is Handling the Migration Crisis

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The inevitability of addressing the refugee migration crisis weighs heavily on the European Union (EU), but member nations are still far from reaching a consensus regarding accountability and resettlement procedures. Some countries—notably Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia—have decidedly closed their borders to refugees, despite the cited irony that many citizens of these countries have migrated to Western Europe for employment and academic opportunities.

The Paris Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po), Campus de Dijon is part of a ring of seven French “Grandes Écoles”—selective, specialized institutions of higher education outside of the main French university system committed to the study of political science. Each institution is designated a geographical region of expertise. The Dijon campus specializes in the study of Central and Eastern European politics, hence a significant proportion of the study body hails from this region.  

Several students from the Sciences Po Dijon campus expressed interest in discussing how their native countries are responding to the migration crisis.  

Camilla Savanco, Milan/Italy

Camilla is a second-year exchange student from the London School of Economics. She came to Sciences Po as part of the Erasmus Programme to study International Law and the process of European integration, which she believes are central to her identity as a European citizen. “My country was the first to be affected by the refugee crisis,” Camilla asserted.

“Italy has a very humanitarian approach to the crisis,” said Camilla. “We are trying to save the largest number of migrants possible from the Mediterranean and to welcome them in a decent manner.”

Swamped with refugees arriving from across the Mediterranean Sea, Italy has been a leading advocate for Union-wide open-door policies. Italy has had to accommodate a disproportionate number of refugees due to the fact that other member EU nations have refused to open their borders. On its own, Italy cannot support all of the refugees it is currently absorbing, which is why the country is calling on their fellow EU members to not only help in patrolling the Mediterranean, but to partake in resettlement initiatives.  

At a personal level, Camilla feels that she has an obligation to help in any way that she can. Over the past two summers, Camilla has volunteered in Belgium refugee centers, an experience that has truly resonated with her: “I learned to see refugees as normal people, people like you and me who just need help for reasons beyond their control.”

Janka Takács, Pécs/Hungary

Janka is a first-year student who came to Sciences Po for its prestige and interdisciplinary approach to higher education. She succinctly characterized Hungary’s current migration policies: “My country is infamous for its regard towards the crisis.”  

Opponents of migrant quotas are particularly organized in their stranglehold on public opinion in Hungary. When the Hungarian ruling party opposed the imposition of a migrant quota and held a held a public referendum to elicit support for their position, opponents of the quota convinced a large portion of the population not to participate even though a majority were in favor of the quota.  Due to the low voter turnout, the referendum did not receive enough votes for the quota to pass, a quota that would have only required Hungary to accept 1,294 refugees.  

“Our government insists that Hungary has to preserve its European and Christian values and has spent a huge amount of money on a campaign against immigrants,” said Janka. “This campaign was so efficient that Hungary’s population became very anti-migrant and hostile towards immigrants.”

A wall along Hungary’s border with Serbia bars migrant entry. The wall has been criticized for its insufficiency in preventing mass migration but also for endangering local wildlife. Last year at Röszke, one of the main border crossing points, a crowd of immigrants awaiting entry started to riot and attempted to break through. There the Hungarian border patrol arrested 11 people who became known as the “Röszke Eleven.” These eleven were accused of both violence against authority and terrorism, even though several among them were blind and crippled.  

Although the crisis has not touched Janka at a personal level, Janka has witnessed the miserable conditions of tented refugee encampments at the Keleti train station in Budapest, the nation’s capital. “I don’t think Hungary’s policy towards the crisis is appropriate,” asserted Janka decisively. “Hostility and total rejection won’t lead to any solution.”

Amanda Orpana, Stockholm/Sweden

Amanda is a second-year student who came to Sciences Po with interests in studying International Relations and Economics. According to her, Sweden’s formerly liberal migration policies have taken a turn toward the conservative.    

“In the beginning of the migrant crisis, Sweden was very welcoming with regard to migrants. The debate was more about how to integrate people into the Swedish society, provide language classes, medical care, schools for children, and how to distribute them over the country to assure an equal distribution over the regions,” Amanda explained. “Sweden has always been a very open country for people seeking a better future.”  

Originally Sweden advocated for equal migration quotas across-the-board in the EU. In 2013, Sweden was the first country to grant permanent residency to incoming Syrian refugees and was one of the leading countries in accepting the largest number. Now, due to pressures from a divided EU and a restrictive Denmark, Sweden’s southern neighbor, there has been a political shift.

There is a bridge between Denmark and Sweden where they now have border controls, which they did not have before,” Amanda stated. “Migrants who take the train from Denmark to Sweden to reunite with their family in Norway are sent back.”  

Despite the controversial nature of domestic migration policy measures, in Sweden there appears to be a consensus that there needs to be a strong system of integration. There are also discussions of establishing regional quotes within the country.

Amanda noted that in Stockholm the government has put up housing for migrants awaiting a residency decision. On this point, Amanda reflected: “Both my family and I noticed that we did not receive any information before it was set up, which is rather sad. I would like to know who lives there, if they need help with anything or if there is anything that the people who live nearby can do to help.”    

In Dijon, Amanda assumes an active role in assuring a positive transition for migrants. Together, with two other friends, Amanda runs a weekly “language café” where non-native French speakers in the city can come informally practice their language skills.  
“We talk about where we come from, traditions, and language. Sometimes we have done small theater improvisations as well. It all depends on the day and the people who come there,” Amanda said. “In either case, I am glad I get the chance to help, a bit at least. There are people who have come to this café ever since we started in September, and seeing how they have changed, how they are talking more and being more active, how they have found a place within this small café community—it is amazing!”  

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