Europe’s Refugee Crisis Is a Lot Like America’s, but Much Worse

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July 24 2014 2:36 PM

Europe’s Refugee Crisis Is a Lot Like America’s, but Much Worse

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A boy is helped disembark a miltary boat at the Maltese port of Valletta with a group of 83 immigrants on board.

Photo by Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images

Reading my colleague Emily Bazelon’s much-needed excoriation of the Democratic governors who have refused to provide help in sheltering the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have recently arrived in the United States, I was struck by some of the parallels between the crisis at America’s southern border and Europe’s Mediterranean migrant crisis. More than 39,000 migrants have already arrived in Italy this year, nearly equal to the total for all of last year.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

There, too, governments to the north have been far too reluctant to provide help to the southern states bearing the brunt of the crisis.

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In both cases, the recent uptick in arrivals has been driven by political instability—in the U.S., rising crime in Central America; in Europe, political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East.

In both cases, the arrivals have often provoked an ugly xenophobic backlash.

In both cases, migrants are transported by traffickers in dangerous and often deadly conditions.

In both cases, the high-profile refugee crises are distracting from the fact that these wealthy countries are not, in fact, being overrun by foreigners: The EU has seen a significant decline in arrivals from outside Europe in recent years, and overall illegal immigration to the United States is at near-historic lows.

The are, of course, significant differences. The main one may be that as dangerous as the deserts of the American Southwest may be, the Mediterranean is nearly 10 times deadlier.  

While neither place is really being overhwelmed—certainly not on the scale of a place like Jordan—both migrant crises will likely continue to get more acute as long as the violence and instability driving them persist. In both cases, the current strategies don't seem to be working.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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