The Syrian refugee crisis: why now?

The Syrian civil war has been going on since 2011, and ISIS presumably started causing trouble not long after that started.

The news of the day is about the massive exodus of civilian refugees from Syria into Europe by whatever means possible. The impression one gets is that this massive wave of refugees really only began perhaps a few months ago. Why does this crisis appear to be happening right now and not, say, four years ago? Did things suddenly get much, much worse in Syria recently, or has some kind of tipping point been reached where the flight of a few refugees has inspired a massive stampede toward Europe?

Population flight did start four years ago, with people leaving their towns and congregating in refugee camps within Syria. As the danger increased and the camps became more unlivable, people began looking for alternatives. People have to be desperate to attempt escape by sea in an overloaded raft.

So has the refugee flood been a gradual ramp-up over the past four years, or has the rate truly spiked recently as the news seems to imply?

Part of the reason might be that Germany, without further proof, grants every individual who claims to be a citizen of Syria refugee status and thus the right to settle in Germany (and consequently in the European Union) permanently. Syrian passports are currently a hotly traded commodity.

At least some Syrians thought the war would be over by now and hung on as long as they could. As the war dragged on, and the local economy collapsed, they were forced to make a difficult decision. They saw their neighbors and friends packing up and they saw ISIS making gains. Eventually it didn’t make sense to stick around to see how it all turned out, especially when Europe seemed like a reasonable alternative. I think the exodus picked up steam about a year ago and we are now seeing the results of all of those people deciding to leave at about the same time.

Here is a site with a timeline:

In a nutshell the surrounding countries absorbed many of the earlier refugees (2011-2013) until conflict and resources made that impractical. Germany said it would take refugees in 2013. Shortly after several other members of the EU said they would take in Syrian refugees, but not in the numbers being displaced at the time. As people fled towards the EU, desperate to get the small number of open spots, Greece was overwhelmed since it was the jumping off point for many refugees entering Europe. They used their military to push back the flood. This was two years ago - not news from last week.

This time last year, the number of refugees that would be accepted in the EU was ~100k of the 2M+ displaced. At the same time many of the neighboring countries stopped taking refugees as their resources were stretched too thin. Given the choice between doing nothing and dying and trying to do something and maybe dying, many resorted to any means necessary to get to Europe.

Why now does US news talk about the number of people fleeing when it has been pretty massive for years? Because Joseph Stalin was right - “One death is a tragedy…” and the unfortunate in question was Aylan Kurdi who was three years old when he died, washed up on a Turkish shore.

This site has a graph showing the increase over time. As noted, it really jumped in 2013.

It was a big story in the U.S. news before the photos of the drowned boy, but that incident really increased the coverage in social media.

Added to all that is that if you are going to cross the Med in a small leaky boat, it’s best to do it in the summer.

And don’t forget the Web - the most amazing thing invented (Thank You, Cold War).

A previous generation could dream of migrating to Europe.

Now, they can contact ‘travel agents’. find detailed maps, and share tips and techniques instantly.

Now that overloaded, leaky boat has a known path to safe and secure places.

When you’ve been bombed out of three homes and 2 camps, any chance becomes real attractive.

Was it a *big *story? For how long back would you say?

I was following it, and it appears you were also, but minus a media bump when Angelina Jolie visited many years back and a series on NPR about a month or so ago, I seem to recall most of the focus was on the fighting: ISIS and/or Assad - not the Syrian refugees. There was reporting when Turkey and Jordan stopped taking refugees, but most news agencies turned back to domestic or economic issues pretty quick.

More interesting or telling is the OP - Machine Elf states that his or her impression is this became a crisis a few months ago. Since it has been going on a lot longer, this suggests it wasn’t a big story. I’d be interested in some perspective from our EU-Doper friends - when did the Syrian refugee crisis surpass the North African refugee crises in the media over there? Or are/were there other bigger issues that crowded out coverage?

Not long at all - I started reading about it with some regularity maybe in June or July, and reading about it daily in August. You’re right, this wasn’t on the radar of U.S. media until very recently. But it did become a big story before the photos of Aylan Kurdi.

I often wonder if Assad or others are using this to dump or force out their criminals and other “undesirables” like Castro did in the Mariel Boat Lift.

Huh? The Web wasn’t developed until the Cold War was more or less over, and was formally launched only a few months before the final breakup of the USSR.

Refugees have been fleeing for years. Of course, the longer and more brutal a war is, the more people will leave and the higher the total number of refugees. Turkey has been overwhelmed for quite a while. But that doesn’t make the news like a refugee crisis in Europe.

I think we are seeing a few other things. When Libya collapsed, an enormously profitable and successful human smuggling industry popped up. No doubt, some of the expertise gained in Libya is being put to use elsewhere now. Given that this is a seasonal business, four years is about the amount of time you’d expect it to take to get really established. Smugglers have had enough time to learn to move this number of people.

We are also seeing a point where people are realizing the war is not going to end soon. People will wait out a war in camps, but people won’t live in a camp permanently. As soon as they know they really aren’t going home, people start looking for a new home where they have freedom of movement and the ability to work- things you don’t get in a camp.

We also have collective learning by refugees. It’s tough to be the first person you know to take a journey. But it’s a lot easier to do it when you know others who have succeeded.

So what you’ve seen has been going on for a while, it’s just been done in smaller numbers, with less efficiency, and in places that aren’t as likely to make headlines.

Given that fully half of Syrians have been uprooted from their homes, if your theory is true, Assad must be casting one heck of a wide net.

But in reality, nobody has the institutional capacity at this point to pull something like that off. There is no conspiracy here. These are just refugees from a particularly brutal civil war.

The Web, yes, but the Internet started as a Defense Department project.

Really? So I as an American can just go to Germany and claim to be Syrian? Even if I speak Arabic, I doubt that will work.

If you speak Arabic well enough to play the part and if you don’t have red hair and freckles, this will indeed work, at least temporarily.

And besides, there have been isolated cases of Americans seeking asylum in Germany (for instance during the Iraq war).

In other words, Germany does not automatically give everyone with a Syrian passport permanent residency?

Because that literally what you just said.