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Why the Number of Syrian Refugees Heading to Europe is Set to Increase

Violence in the Middle East forces thousands of people to flee. Most of the displaced are hosted by developing countries: only 10 per cent of them is crossing the Mediterranean

"The number of Syrians seeking protection in European countries will increase," said Laurens Jolles, UN High Commissioner for Refugees' Regional Representative for Southern Europe. Jolles spoke at the conference ‘Forced Migration in the Mediterranean and the Rest of the World: Land, the Expulsion Factor’, organized by Caritas at Expo 2015 on 24 September.



While thus far "Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, to neighbouring countries from which they hoped to return" in their homeland, he said, the relentlessness of armed conflict and the worsening humanitarian situation have shifted the flow of migrants towards Europe, producing an emergency that, in terms of numbers, remains rather limited compared to Middle Eastern regions on the border with Syria and Iraq. The Report on International Protection in Italy, by ANCI, Cittalia, Caritas Italiana, the Migrantes Foundation and SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), in collaboration with the United Nations and presented at the conference, sheds light on the enormous amounts of data and numbers on migration flows concerning Italy and Europe. The richest countries are not those bearing the brunt of hosting refugees. With regard to the Syrian crisis, 85 percent of the 19.5 million people who have left their homes are being taken in by developing nations such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Less than 10 percent of migrants come to Europe.


The situation in Libya, the other main migration front, is rather different, Jolles said. Here, so far, it is not only the Libyans who are leaving (though the anarchical and violent situation in the country is dramatic): there are also migrants fleeing from sub-Saharan Africa. Numbers would certainly increase when Libyans will start to cross the Mediterranean.



Managing such an immigration emergency that is already so complex is complicated by European Union member states struggling to establish an agreement on the redistribution of refugees to the different countries. According to Oliviero Forti, Immigration Commissioner for Caritas Italiana, the crisis should not just be tackled through data, but also and above all through the stories of each individual. Mario Morcone, Prefect and Head of the Civil Liberties and Immigration Department for the Ministry of the Interior, has also pressed his case on this point. According to Morcone, the distinction between economic migrants and refugees is a major setback in the fight for the defence of human rights.



Europe demonstrates a clear inability to welcome migrants, Mgr. Giancarlo Perego, Director General of the Migrantes Foundation said, recalling the three words on which the ‘European Dream’ is founded, now almost forgotten: liberty, equality and fraternity. Still, there are good practice examples, reported in the document. The proposal made by the editors, including Daniela Di Capua, SPRAR central service director, concerns the creation of a unified system following the refugees identification, welcoming and resettlement process from the beginning. This model of ‘'widespread hospitality’ is already in place in some Italian areas, such as Prato, as the president of the National Association of Municipalities in Tuscany, Matteo Biffoni, said. The hope is to export it elsewhere in Europe.



The role of the Dioceses working with institutions and answering Pope Francis’s request to ‘"open the churches' doors" should not be forgotten. The Pope’s invitation transcends any distinction between refugees and economic migrants and encourages welcoming not just those who are "fleeing from death due to war and famine." The Church’s action, Msgr. Perego said, are a sign of welcome, and a cultural and pastoral challenge.



Luigi Manconi, President of the Extraordinary Committee on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights of the Senate, mentioned a cultural challenge. For Manconi, the migration "is the biggest political issues in our societies because it will define mentalities and common sense of the present and future." Cohabitation is not a bright horizon, Manconi said, it is something that is difficult and painful, but it is the only alternative to ethnic war.