The Refugee Crisis

“The refugee crisis” means different things to different people. That’s because there are refugee crises unfolding across the globe, and yet there doesn’t seem to be the political vocabulary to discuss them – or their causes, implications and solutions – individually.


At the global level, there are record numbers of people – across almost every continent – who have been forcibly displaced. An unprecedented 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes, of which 22.5 million are refugees. 1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. This has never been seen before.

Forced displacement has been on the rise since the mid-1990s, but the level at which it is increasing has grown over the past five years. Today, more than twenty people are displaced every minute. In 2005, it was six.

The causes for this ever-growing rise in displacement are many, and they are complex. However, UNHCR has identified three core reasons:

  1. First, situations (including civil, international and internationalised wars) that create large numbers of refugees are lasting longer;
  2. Second, there are a number of new and re-ignited conflicts currently raging (notably in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and more);
  3. Third, the rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War.

The sheer scope and scale of this forced movement arguably legitimizes the term “crisis”. However, the use of such apocalyptic language can be used to cloak a lack of political will or effort, by presenting the problem as too large to handle.

Since 2015, this practice has been well-documented across Europe. “The refugee crisis” has become a common phrase, bandied around by politicians and media personalities. It tends to refer to the growing numbers of people who have sought sanctuary on the continent, and who have travelled irregularly – perhaps by boat, or concealed in lorries – to reach safety. But this narrative fundamentally misrepresents the situation in Europe: refugees are the victims, rather than the creators, of a European crisis – and that crisis is a political one.


In 2015, over a million people arrived to Europe by boat – and over 3, 700 people died while attempting the crossing. They were fleeing war and persecution; they were seeking a better life for their family. The political establishment convulsed: instead of looking to protect refugees and migrants, many States spoke of the impending “swarm” of people as something to be feared.

Facts made a swift exit from the conversation. The European Union’s population was, in 2015, roughly 500 million. The new arrivals therefore represented just 0.2% of the total population, but this was rarely cited. Instead, the statistic of one million was splashed across headlines. Far-right parties profited from virulent anti-immigration rhetoric. States soon began to close their borders, to fortify their security systems, and to move away from refugee protection.

The inadequate and damaging response of many nations was compounded by the EU’s immigration system, known as Dublin III. This states that asylum seekers arriving to Europe should claim sanctuary in the first safe country that they reach. It places a disproportionate burden on peripheral states, while shielding northern European countries – and particularly the UK, given that it is an island – from the increased number of new arrivals. It pushes people to take perilous journeys on foot or hidden in lorries and trains to reach their families, friends, or simply the place that they want to be. It has resulted in numerous deaths: over the past two years and in Calais alone, five children (all of whom had the right to be in the UK) have died while attempting to cross the border.  

The crisis in Europe is not of numbers. It is a political crisis, that has played out on the backs of refugees and asylum seekers. It has served to stigmatise communities, and deny countless individuals their rights. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Join our movement, and call for a fair European system that is based on fact and compassion. Call for the rights of people on the move, wherever they are, to be respected. Together, we can show that this isn’t a crisis: this is a time to act with love and solidarity, and give sanctuary to those who need it.


Help Refugees supports refugees and displaced people across Europe and the Middle East. To support our work, please donate here.