Overcrowded registration centers or welcome courses? Integration or deportation? Refugees arriving in Europe are hoping for support, but depending on where they go, they’re treated very differently.
The Netherlands – Strictest asylum policies in Europe
Despite hefty criticism from human rights organizations, the Netherlands passed the toughest laws on asylum in the EU in 2010. Two out of three applications are rejected. Once rejected, an applicant has 28 days to leave the country. They are offered a minimum level of care, which has come to be known as "bed, bath, and bread." After a night in a sleeping hall and breakfast, they have to leave the facility. Failed applicants who don't want to go back to their home countries eventually lose even this support and have to make do without shelter and food. German courts have frequently taken issue with the fact that refugees facing homelessness who enter Germany illegally cannot be taken back to the Netherlands. Somalians are especially affected. In 2013, the Netherlands became the first EU country to start deporting people back to Somalia. Despite this, the number of refugees entering the Netherlands is increasing. At the end of July, the country had received 26,600 people - more than during all of 2014. Most fled from Syria (38 percent) and Eritrea.
Sweden – Topping the statistics
Compared to other EU states, Sweden's asylum policies are seen as relatively generous. Sweden is leading the EU-wide statistics when it comes to the number of refugees it accepts in relation to its population size of 9.6 million people. Right behind Germany, it is a top destination for asylum seekers. In 2014, 81,300 people applied for asylum there, and 30,600 were immediately accepted. Refugees from Syria have the greatest chance of being granted asylum in Sweden. The country has long been calling for other EU states to take on a fair share of refugees. The Swedish government has made it a goal to integrate the migrants as quickly as possible into the job market. It offers special language and cultural courses as well as job preparation courses and internships. But even Sweden is having a hard time on some fronts. A lack of apartments, small communities that feel overwhelmed, unemployment among migrants: Despite the government's efforts to integrate asylum seekers, Swedish society is divided, and that is beginning to be reflected in politics. The right-wing populist, anti-immigration party Sweden Democrats now has 20 percent popular support according to the latest polls.
Austria – Popular alpine republic
In relation to its population of 8.4 million, Austria is one of the most popular destinations for refugees in Europe. More than 27,000 people applied for asylum there in the first half of 2015 - three times as many as in the same period the year before. Most of the applicants are from Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq. The increase in the influx of people has put Austria under pressure. Distributing the applicants among the initial reception centers and across all states has presented the government with a huge task. Only three of the nine states - Vienna, Lower Austria, and Vorarlberg - are fulfilling their share of the agreed quotas. Bringing up the rear is Burgenland on the border with Hungary. The issue of refugees has become a topic of political debate. The Austrian government now wants to change the constitution to force states and communities to accept refugees in future. But that is causing opposition in some states, and provoking anti-foreigner protests, from which the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria is benefiting. At the same time, people across Austria are organizing themselves at the grassroots level to better support refugees.
Poland: Christians only, please
Ukraine, Russia, and Tajikistan are the main countries of origin for refugees coming to Poland to apply for asylum. In 2014, 8,020 people filed an application, much fewer than in the previous year. Around half of the applicants are Russian citizens, most of whom are Chechens (91 percent). A little over 2,200 applicants are from Ukraine. In 2014, only 325 Russians were granted asylum, while around 130 Syrians were accepted. Poland's treatment of refugees has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations. The state cares for them, but the majority of the reception centers are located in former army barracks or workers' recreation centers. In these locations, there is a lack of integration opportunities or chances to make contact with Polish people, activists say. Poland is considered to be a transit country for migrants that want to end up in the West. After Poland announced that it would accept an additional 2,000 refugees to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, there were several protests by nationalist groups. But it's not just extremists that have reservations: In an opinion poll released in July, 70 percent of people said that they did not want refugees from Muslim or African countries in Poland. Syrian refugees who are Christians, on the other hand, are welcome.
Spain – No entry to Europe
Recently, many refugees tried to gain entry to Europe by storming the border fences in the North African exclaves Ceuta and Melilla. But for three months now, Spain has ceased to be a significant entry point for migrants and refugees. In 2014, border protection agency Frontex estimated that 7,800 people had illegally entered Spain. That was just a fraction of the estimated 39,000 illegal immigrants in 2006. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, the numbers are going down because of a border control cooperation scheme with Morocco. In addition, Madrid signed deportation agreements with states such as Senegal, Mauritania, and Nigeria, preventing many Africans from attempting to flee to Spain. The largest migration route to Europe currently leads from conflict regions such as Syria or Iraq over the eastern Mediterranean or via the Balkans, meaning that Spain is geographically no longer the main escape route.