Last year was a year marked by a major migration crisis, which, according to international organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, saw the greatest waves of exodus since the Second World War coming to Europe.
Hundreds of thousands fled their war-torn homelands, passing borders under often-dangerous conditions, to reach safety in Europe. The crisis caught the entire world off guard when the number of migrants far exceeded expectations, and even pushed Germany to temporarily suspend implementing the Dublin Agreement that had put in place a strategy to deal with migrants in the European Union’s states decades ago.
In fact, the wave of migrants has been so large that there are no accurate statistics about the number of people who arrived at Europe’s doors recently.
Now, almost one year after the crisis began, the question being repeated frequently is: Did migrants find what they were looking for in Europe?
Although most migrants do not have the option of returning to their homelands, there remains a gap between what they expect from life in Europe and what reality is like, particularly for the youth who hope to start a better life in their new homes. This, in turn, begs the question: What is it that people expect from life in Europe and what do they wait for from European communities?
While the discourse on migrants in Europe often revolves around adaptation and integration into society, these are not migrants’ main concerns. They think primarily about the obstacles they face prior to being accepted as a member of society; they worry about bureaucratic procedures that often take a long time and push many youths to revise their decision to apply for asylum.
Normally, procedures of asylum take from six to eight months to be finalized but in some cases they take more; they sometimes exceed one year. This long time is considered far too much for some youths, who arrive in Europe unwilling to sit around idly with nothing to do. Many asylum seekers have a strong academic background and wish to continue pursuing their studies and achieve higher degrees such as Masters and PhDs.
In such cases, where youths are already burdened with their circumstances at home, one year spent maneuvering through the asylum process is considered a calamity. Although this time can be a good time to learn the new language and become familiar with life in the new country, it remains problematic for many because it is a period of time during which their lives are in limbo.
As if the long waiting periods are not problematic enough, housing poses yet another major issue for migrants. Due to the large number of people seeking asylum, migrants are often hard-pressed to find houses or apartments, particularly in the big cities, which are preferable because they allow for a better social life. However, rents in big cities, particularly capital cities, have become higher and migrants are either subjected to the conditions and high fees of intermediaries or forced to search for housing in the suburbs, which in some cases are several hours away from main cities.
As if that weren’t enough, migrants who are married run into yet another series of rules and procedures to maneuver in order to e reunited with their families. In some countries such as Germany and Sweden, on top of the long waiting time just to arrange an embassy interview, some migrants must endure waiting for even lengthier periods of time to reunite with their families.
All the above conditions and hurdles do not paint a pretty picture for a migrant seeking refuge in Europe; on the contrary, they are forced to embark on a long journey that requires patience and persistence. But does it deserve all of this struggling? This question is particularly important for youths who want to start their lives and for whom time is of the essence.
Meanwhile, administrators who are responsible for dealing with migrants attribute the long waiting period to the large influx of migrants and they justify the hurdles by pointing out that European countries are overloaded with migrants and are at their maximum capacity.
However, there are some potential solutions that could facilitate the process for migrants while also alleviating the receiving countries’ burden in processing these migrants and helping them to integrate into society. For example, to address the long waiting times, governments can make use of migrants who have already completed their immigration procedures by mandating them with helping to acquaint newcomers with the country and its rules, or assist them in finding adequate housing.
This solution could push migrants to integrate quickly into society and providing incentives to adapt to the country’s lifestyle, particularly in order to be able to help incoming migrants do the same, while also providing the government with more time and manpower to finalize the legal matters. Governments could provide further encouragement for migrants to become assistants by paying them a small fee or giving these assistants other advantages such as employment or even a permanent citizenship.
The bottom line is that, although coming to Europe does not always live up to migrants’ expectations, the large majority of them do not have the luxury of objecting. If remaining in their homelands were an option, they most certainly would not have put their lives on the line trying to get into a country where they will continuously struggle to achieve an acceptable standard of living.
Although this crisis is certainly not easy to deal with, it is also not impossible to handle. Today’s crisis could be tomorrow’s blessing for Europe, but it will continue to be a crisis if it is not dealt with swiftly and correctly.