Migrations, being anyway a divisive issue in the era of globalization, have especially come into focus since 2015. The last wave of migrants was mainly consisted of Syrian or other Middle East or North African refugees who were fleeing their countries torn by largely unsuccessful Arab Spring, subsequent civil wars, dictatorships, terrorism or other turbulence, or economic hardship. Many refugees came and stayed in Turkey - a couple of million of them - while many others went on towards Western Europe, through Italy, Greece or along the amended „Balkan Route“ (or its new, latest derivates).
EU was caught by surprise, with a system of asylum and refugee protection calibured for much smaller number of people than the ca. million which came just during 2015. Disaccord soon broke between southern European countries (primarily Greece and Italy) which wanted to ease the burden they have already had and resettle some of the refugees throughout EU, Germany and few other EU countries that embraced all the newcomers, and a few Central Europe countries (especially „Visegrád countries“) which more or less refused to recieve any number of refugees short of symbolic. Transit, non-EU countries of Balkans, both between and within them, saw various approaches to the problem and many small-scale, low-intensity conflicts.
On the occasion of the refugee issue, far-right populism grew up in a number of countries, questioning European values and EU as such, especially European openness, free movement of people within it and cultural diversity as a feature of modern Europe. Even non-populist politicians tightened their approach so as to counter real populism. Thus the issue to-day remains as a source of tensions and of fear for the future of EU as we have known it.
There are many aspects of the refugee crisis that could be discussed from a broad humanistic point of view, as well as from the liberal perspective. On one hand, helping people in need, who escape wars, dictatorships or severe human rights abuse, and whose lives are in imminent danger, is a civilization must. Solidarity with them, and among EU and other civilized countries in helping them, should be a norm. On the other hand, together with a wave of refugees many economic migrants, who have sought better opportunities in the EU than in their home countries, came, especially to Germany which proclaimed an open-door policy for all who were coming. There after, many issues of free movement of people and workforce, protectionism in the labour market, as well as of capacity and ways to integrate immigrants have started being much more hotly debated than before, while the liberal views – those that, in general, free movement (and migrations) of people are not just a normal human activity which took part throughout history but also an opportunity for the economies to obtain missing professional or entrepreneurial profiles or gain new dynamics, or for the demographics to improve by the influx of young people – were challenged by many populists, of all colors, though more loudly by right wing than by left wing ones.
Meanwhile, some of the wars that had triggered the 2015 wave of migration decreased in intensity, open-door policy was replaced by a more cautious approach, while various subtle ways of border control sprang up within Shengen area, or previously „soft“ borders between or towards non-EU countries in Europe became heavily guarded by army units, barbed wire, somewhere even by vigilante paramilitaries. As the row within Bosnia and Herzegovina (whereby the government of its entity Republic of Srpska refuses to accept any migrants from non-European countries) this summer has demonstrated, even countries within themselves are shaken and refugee issue is a welcome occasion for all those that want to derail them from European principles and values. And, even in countries that proclaimed relatively benevolent attitude towards refugees, such as Croatia, implementation on the ground showed that there was hostility towards, or abuse of the human rights of refugees. In other countries, such as Serbia, the public has shown a lot of empathy for the transiting migrants, but integration of those who temporarily stayed went on with numerous difficulties.
In its analyses of the situation regarding freedom in 30 countries of Europe and Central Asia, Freedom Barometer - a project conducted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, in its annual reports ever since 2013, at its website and on its Faceook page – evaluates, among other aspects, also the treatment of refugees, as a human rights`, as well as a political issue.
The list of the countries that faced deterioration in freedom, or in the field of human rights, or where other aspects of rule of law were marked badly, to a large degree overlaps with the list of those that are refusing to participate in the joint EU efforts to mitigate the problem of refugees and turn it into a positive, beneficial development for the EU. Especially Hungary and Poland, which during the last several years witnessed deterioration of the rule of law and where democratic principles have been endangered in many ways, which was bringing them at odds with EU institutions, together with other two „Visegrád“ countries were loud in refusing, in part or totally, to accept migrants of the recent wave. Political changes in some of the „old“ EU members, such as in Italy or Austria, are making it even harder for EU institutions to isolate and put pressure on the populist rebels within or at the fringes of the EU.
On the positive side in the eastern part of the EU, the three Baltic countries, especially Estonia – which btw during the last three decades grew from a Soviet republic into one of the freest countries in Europe - have acted mainly as disciplined and helpful EU members, by not least accepting but putting considerable efforts to integrate the newcomers. However, their total contribution to joint EU efforts, due to their size, has remained meager. Much more contribution is added by Germany which, according to the latest data on job market developments, managed to integrate more than 300.000 of the latest refugees into its regular economy.
One can read more about political and economic freedom and rule of law, including human rights, including treatment of refugees, in various Europe and Central Asia countries, at individual country profiles at the Freedom Barometer website.