The refugee crisis has highlighted hitherto latent divisions within the EU, particularly amongst the V4 countries and Western Europe.
The division is, at first glance, rooted in fundamentally differing perceptions of the crisis, giving rise to several myths whose veracity merits questioning.
This blog will seek to challenge three of the most popular misconceptions about the refugee crisis.
The majority of refugees are actually economic migrants?
It is a common misconception that refugees are predominantly economic migrants. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, without citing credible sources, has claimed that 95% of all refugees are economic migrants. Viktor Orbán, Hungary's Prime Minister, has echoed this statement, claiming that the "overwhelming majority" of migrants in Europe are not refugees.
This is factually wrong.
According to the UN, 62% of all migrants reaching Europe by boat this year were from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, all countries suffering from war, dictatorial oppression and/or religious extremism, meaning these people almost always have the legal right to refuge in Europe. Adding refugees from parts of Nigeria, Darfur, Iraq and Somalia, the percentage of legitimate refugees become far higher. It is a myth that the majority of migrants are economic migrants.
The distinction between migrant and refugee matters greatly; under the 1951 Refugee Convention and a plethora of EU laws, European countries are obliged to offer refuge or protection to asylum seekers who can verify they are fleeing war or persecution. In the case of economic migrants looking to increase their prospects, even if they left behind lives of poverty, the European countries are under no obligations to accept them.
Several Czech politicians have echoed the sentiments by Orbán and Fico, President Zeman and Andrej Babis most vocally and notably. Yet as the abovestated numbers prove, the premise of Fico and Orban's claims, namely that Europe’s migration crisis amounts largely to a problem of border management and repatriation rather than relocation and integration, is flawed.
The infrastructure, social and integration systems in European countries cannot cope with the number of refugees?
The EU boasts a total population of more than 500 million people. The UN has estimated that 850.000 refugees will be arriving in Europe in 2015 and 2016. This is little more than 0.1% total population increase. Although this estimate is conservative and likely to be exceeded, the amount of refugees would still be miniscule and manageable, as not everyone arriving in Europe will be eligible for asylum.
Furthermore, considering the disproportionate amount of refugees taken in by countries such as Germany and Sweden, the spread of refugees is incredibly uneven across Europe. The coming refugee quotas will do little to change this. The 4306 refugees the Czech Republic is set to take will constitute a population increase of 0.04%. Considering the Czech Republic’s lack of refugee intake in the past several years, the argument that refugees constitute a cultural threat or unsustainable burden economically and on the country’s social system is unfounded fearmongering.
Europe does not need immigrants?
Europe desperately needs immigrants. A demographic deficit looms above Europe; simply put, too few babies are born to sustain the social security systems underpinning most contemporary European states and ensuring the caretaking of its elderly population. The Guardian recently described this development as a "perfect demographic storm that will imperil economic growth across the continent."
To use Germany as an example, it is expected that at its current rate, Germany's population will, according to the German government, by 2060 be reduced from 81 million people to 67 million people. According to the European Commission's statistics, the Czech Republic's fertility rate is marginally higher than Germany's yet still below the EU average. To put it into the context of the Czech Republic, a comparable fall in population would have a devastating impact on the country's economy and social and health care systems.
Sweden is one of the countries who are most proactive in averting this calamity. In the words of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, "[...] it [the refugee crisis] is a major challenge at the moment, but it is also an asset", citing the necessity of integrating refugees in order to avert future demographic disaster.
The alternative to integrating refugees is most often cited as ’controlled immigration’. However, in the case of the V4 countries, controlled immigration on a sufficient scale as a solution to this challenge is an illusion; the V4 countries are one of the poorer regions of the EU, already suffering from high levels of (economic) emigration (the very thing V4 politicians accuse legitimate refugees of doing, paradoxically) to Western countries. Compounded by a rising xenophobia, the V4 countries are hardly attractive countries for a skilled laborer compared to Scandinavian or Western European countries, who all suffer from similar demographic developments.
Expertise: Migration/European migration crisis, EU foreign policy, Scandinavian politics, populism, EU enlargement policy