For Europe, Integrating Refugees Is the Next Big Challenge

For Europe, Integrating Refugees Is the Next Big Challenge
A Slovenian policeman attempts to control migrants as they wait to enter Austria, Sentilj, Slovenia, Oct. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Darko Bandic).

In a scene from a compelling documentary called “Dreaming of Denmark,” two teenagers sit on a snowy European slope, chatting in Danish. When one of them, Mussa, describes himself as Danish, the other, his Afghan friend named Wasi, reminds him he’s Ethiopian. “Oh, yeah,” Mussa says, giggling. He had just obtained his Danish passport, after three years of living in a shelter for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Denmark, and was clearly well on his way to building a life in his new homeland.

The scene was filmed in 2014, but couldn’t be more relevant today. The question on the minds of many in Europe these days is how their societies are coping with a sharp increase of asylum-seekers and migrants that began several years ago but reached crisis proportions this year. Over 1 million asylum-seekers and migrants reached the European Union via the Mediterranean in 2015, nearly five times as many as the previous year. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), the organization’s refugee agency, estimates that 84 percent are from countries that, because of war or other circumstances, qualify them as refugees. Fully half are Syrians, while 20 percent are Afghans. Iraqis, Eritreans and Somalis make up another 13 percent. This is quite clearly a refugee crisis, and it poses many immediate challenges. But how the EU integrates the men, women and children who remain in Europe after the crises that sent them fleeing from their homes subside will be the real long-term test.

What we’ve seen so far in terms of rhetoric and practice is far from ideal.

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