Thirty thousand, 12,000, 21,000, 3,000, 150,000, 442,000. . . These are just some of the refugee numbers connected with the current humanitarian crisis facing Europe. 30,000 – the number of refugees who have entered Croatia. 12,000 – the number of migrants who have entered Slovenia. 21,000 – the number who have been accepted by Sweden. 3,000 – the number who have drowned at sea while attempting to cross into Europe. 150,000 – the number who made it to Greece. The last number, 442,000 – the number of refugees who have arrived in Europe by boat.
Thousands are continuing to cross borders into Europe on a daily basis. Germany expects 800,000 migrants to reach its borders by year’s end. Each number represents a hope, dream and vision for a better life, one safe from physical and emotional violence. Even the United States is considering raising its annual ceiling of 70,000, the total number of refugees it accepts on an annual basis, to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. But that is a drop in the bucket compared with the vast numbers of men, women and children fleeing to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere for a better life.
This is being hailed as a “humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.” What does it represent? What are the issues involved? Can it be effectively resolved? We have seen mass migrations before; what makes this one different?
First, this migration is occurring in the 21st century. It means more communication is taking place among the migrants by cellphones. As families and groups of migrants move, they are in constant contact with those who have gone before them, learning where to go, what to avoid and what to expect on the road ahead of them. Digital technology also gives them access to GPS, web maps and news.
Second, the reasons why people are migrating are diverse. Previous migrations were often defined by major or cataclysmic events such as war, devastating natural disasters or religious/cultural upheavals. This resulted in mass migrations defined by singular issues.