Department of Political Science

AU professor speaks on Europe's refugee crisis at OLLI Brown Bag Lunch

Published on Apr 18, 2016

Paul Harris speakingAs tens of thousands move across Europe seeking freedom from oppression and a better way of living, the ending point for the majority of refugees still remains a question mark.

Europe’s refugee crisis served as the topic of conversation for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn University’s Brown Bag Lunch and Learn Wednesday, as political science professor Dr. Paul Harris led a discussion titled “Understanding Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Causes, Consequences and its Impact on Contemporary Europe.”

“The refugee crisis today in Europe, it is a crisis,” Harris said. “It is unprecedented. You’re always going to hear, this is the largest crisis since the world war. What is happening today, however, pales in comparison to what happened during and right after the Second World War.”

Harris explained that the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations, led by the United States, assigned a legal definition to the word refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Harris said, “It was the plight of the millions of displaced people at the end of World War II and the need for an orderly system of resettlement that spurred the talks that resulted in the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951.”

Harris said that as of today, an estimated 20 million refugees are living outside their country of origin, and an estimated 40 million are internally displaced people, living in refugee camps in Syria or South Sudan, for example.

Harris said the background of today’s refugee crisis in Europe dates to 2011, when Syrian people began to protest the Asaad regime that has ruled Syria since 1971.

“Of course another further contributing factor: the rise of ISIS,” Harris added.

More than 13 million Syrians have been displaced since 2011, and 6.6 million are living internally displaced in Syria. More than 4 million are living outside the country, primarily in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

With more than 2 million Syrians living in Turkey, many have sought refugee elsewhere.

“Beginning in the summer of 2015, hundreds of thousands took to the water on flimsy boats to reach Greece,” Harris said.

In addition to Syrian refugees, tens of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis and North Africans are also fleeing their homelands.

In August 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended Dublin Convention regulations, guaranteeing asylum status for Syrians entering Germany.

“If you hear you’re going to get automatic entry, you’re going to do everything in your means to get north.”

As throngs of people are on the move, unease is growing throughout Europe as social cohesion is threatened.

“Countries throughout the region have set up fences along their borders,” Harris said. “The European experiment of open borders is currently being more and more closed.”

German natives who were not consulted before Merkel’s decision to allow Syrians automatic asylum are protesting, Harris said.

“These are run-of-the-mill Germans who are simply saying if we’re going to bring people into our country, if you’re going to invite people for dinner, you’ve got to make sure you have enough to serve.

“We have enough troubles just trying to decide who gets the water out of the Chattahoochee,” Harris jested. “And we all speak the same language and like the same barbecue. So you can understand how difficult this is.”

And as some may argue a moral obligation exists to granting citizenship, legislating a moral issue proves difficult, Harris said.

“I am simply saying we recognize that we are different,” he said. “And that integration, that peace, that cooperation is a two-way street. It’s not a one-way street. And that there are obligations for citizenship and that you have these obligations. And that’s what Europe really has to grapple with — they have to address that.”

Written by Katherine Haas and originally published by the Opelika-Auburn News