Refugees and violence

The Refugee Explosion – Political and Economic Developments

This article is part of AOAV’s report, The Refugee Explosion. The whole report can be found here. Whilst the report introduction and methodology can be seen here. The key findings can be viewed here. The report overview of explosive violence and refugees can be read here, as well as on refugee destinations, here, and asylum law in Europe, here.  AOAV’s country findings for Germany, the UK, and Greece can be found here, here, and here, respectively. For the report’s overall findings please click here, or for AOAV’s resulting recommendations here. To read some of the interviews from refugees AOAV spoke to please see here.

The refugee crisis has had significant impact on European states and Europe as a whole. The huge influx of refugees to Europe has seen major shifts in policy and regulations. A few attempts have been made – to varying levels of success – to try and ease the burden that the crisis has placed on the member states most impacted, some of which were facing pre-existing strains on their economy.


On March 18th 2016, the EU and Turkey attempted to end irregular migration from Turkey to Greece. The deal required Turkey to reduce illegal migration to Europe and accept refugees returned from Greece to Turkey. In exchange, the EU agreed to accept one Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian returned, lift visa restrictions for Turkish citizen entering the EU and to pay €3bn to Turkey as well as an extra €3bn at the end of 2018.

Whilst refugees did continue to cross to Greece, the deal drastically reduced the number of arrivals compared to the previous year. However, it also changed power relations between the EU and Turkey as the EU became dependent on Turkey’s adherence to the agreed pact – Turkey threatened to terminate the agreement multiple times.

Consequently, Turkey’s human rights violations such as the crackdown on critical media, the purges after the attempted coup on 15 June 2016, and their repeated shelling of Kurdish forces, have not been widely challenged by Europe’s leaders. Moreover, the deal was criticised for undermining the constitutional values of the EU, as it was concluded without consulting the European Parliament or asking the ECJ to give an opinion, and the agreement potentially breaches the principle of non-refoulement.

It is also questionable whether Turkey can be considered a safe or legal country to return refugees to – both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found that Turkey was neither. No Syrian, Afghan or Iraqi could request refugee status there, as Turkey excludes non-Europeans from qualifying for refugee status.


In the wake of a number of terror attacks in the EU, European states have started to securitise the issue of migration and refugees, stating that terrorists could abuse Europe’s asylum regime and that an external population constitutes the greatest security threat to Europe. Securitisation speech related to refugees and migrants have increased in EU policies and external European borders have hardened.

During the refugee crisis’ peak, seven European countries re-introduced border controls. In July 2015, Hungary built barbed-wire barriers at its border to Serbia to fence off illegal immigration, followed by a close down of borders between Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia, as well as between Scandinavian countries and Germany and Denmark.

According to EU treaties however, border controls are only permissible if they are a timely response and do not exceed a period of two months in duration. In November 2016, European trade ministers decided to prolong border controls, notably Germany, Austria and Scandinavian countries would keep up their controls for at least three more months. In February 2017 these were extended for another three months.

Greater securitisation has also seen new emergency state laws, infringements on the principle of legality, the freedom of expression, right to liberty, freedom of movement and stripping of nationality, as well as violations of the principle of non-refoulment and deeper surveillance. The exact changes vary between countries; while Poland, Hungary, Belgium, the UK and France have moved towards a restriction of citizens’ rights in the wake of the Paris attacks in November 2015, other states have infringed on freedoms and rights only marginally – such as Germany, Denmark and Austria – or not at all such as Sweden, Italy, Malta and Finland.

In this sense, explosive violence has been a major cause of the securitisation process in Europe, both in the shape of a perceived threat of terrorist attacks and through the mass influx of refugees from countries that are heavily plagued by explosive violence.


The exact costs of the refugee crisis are hard to calculate and range from €10bn for Germany, around €8bn for Sweden and €2bn for Austria in 2015 alone. In March 2016, the European Commission set up a plan to relocate €700m extra aid to first-arrival countries, notably Greece.

These funds are unlikely to fully cover the expenditures created by the mass influx of refugees.


The Euro-crisis, continuous economic stagnation, immigration and, of course, the refugee crisis have all contributed to a political shift to the right. Although it is hard to measure which factor played what role, the refugee crisis appears to be a driving factor behind the right’s success, as their campaigns contain anti-immigration, anti-asylum and, often, anti-Islamic rhetoric.

In recent and upcoming elections, anti-immigration parties have seen increasing influence, including, Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France, Geert Wilder’s of the PVV and the AfD in Germany. All have promised to crack down on ‘illegal’ immigration.  AfD’s leader Frauke Petry even suggested that officers should shoot at refugees entering the country illegally.

Sweden and Austria’s recent elections, also saw right-wing parties gain significant ground. Sweden Democrats, the Swedish anti-immigration and nationalist party, won 13% in the 2014 general elections, up from 5.7% in 2010. FPÖ presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, who campaigned for Austria’s populist, anti-immigration party, was only narrowly defeated during elections in 2016. His opponent Alexander Van der Bellen won with 50.7% of the votes. Both countries have the highest refugee acceptance per capita rates.

In the UK, the far-right UKIP drew upon anti-immigration sentiment during the debate to decide whether the UK should leave the EU (Brexit). Immigration was brought up in every debate with the Leave campaign insisting that the UK must be in complete control of its own borders. Farage warned of immigrant criminals, Muslims’ failure to integrate, and extremists among refugees.

As the vote approached polls showed growing concern among the UK public about the levels of immigration. In the end it was shown that a key motivator for leave voters was ‘for the UK to  regain control over immigration and its own borders’.

While the driving factors for the rise of right-wing sentiment and nationalism across the EU cannot be laid entirely at the door of refugees, it is clear that the media’s often critical reporting of the refugee crisis, the way in which the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ have become interchangeable as a means to describe even those fleeing explosive violence, and the often lack of balanced debate about the moral and legal responsibilities there is for handling those being forced to leave war zones, have all contributed to the rise of polarised debate and inflammatory political posturing.