Migrant Crisis Q&A


Where are migrants coming from? Where are they going? What’s next? (BBC)

What are refugees? Use our basic encyclopedic entry to find out.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The bars on this map show the number of asylum-seekers in Europe between January and June 2015. The orange shading reflects the number of asylum-seekers in proportion to the country’s population. Map by Furfur, courtesy Wikimedia. Data from Eurostat (here and here). CC-BY-SA-4.0
The bars on this map show the number of asylum-seekers in Europe between January and June 2015. The orange shading reflects the number of asylum-seekers in proportion to the host country’s population.
Map by Furfur, courtesy Wikimedia. Data from Eurostat (here and here). CC-BY-SA-4.0

Discussion Ideas

  • Many articles on the European Migrant Crisis distinguish between migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees. What is the difference? Read this article from USA Today for some help.
    • Migrants are immigrants who move to a new country or region. The word “migrant” or “immigrant” refers to both voluntary migrants, who move to another place to seek better economic or political opportunities, and forced migrants, who move due to political conflict, natural disaster, or environmental hazard. Because migrants do not face safety concerns if they return to their country of origin, they can be deported from the country to which they migrate.
    • Asylum-seekers are immigrants who have applied for, but not yet received, refugee status. Most of the new European immigrants are asylum-seekers.
    • Refugee status describes the official legal status of a person who has fled their home region for asylum in a host country. A host country is expected to provide people with refugee status with civil rights, some right to work, and access to social services.
    • Refugees are “persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution,” said Adrian Edwards, chief spokesperson for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Their situation is “so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries.”


  • Where are Europe’s newest immigrants coming from? Take a look through this terrific collection of maps and graphics from the BBC and New York Times for some help.
    • Most immigrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Eritrea, and Serbia.


  • Where are Europe’s newest immigrants seeking asylum?
    • By volume, most asylum-seekers are heading to Germany, Hungary, and Turkey.
    • Proportionally (the number of asylum-seekers compared to the host country’s population), the largest number of asylum-seekers are heading to Sweden, Hungary, and Germany.


  • How are immigrants from Asia and Africa getting to Europe? Read through this blog post for some help.
    • Most immigrants have arrived in Europe by sea.
      • Prior to 2015, most immigrants came through the Central Mediterranean.
      • This year, however, more have arrived through Eastern Mediterranean corridors. This has made for surreal summer vacations for many Europeans going to Greece for a holiday.
    • Overland, most immigrants come through Balkan countries such as Serbia.



  • Where else are immigrants seeking asylum?
    • Most immigrants from Syria are actually seeking asylum in the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan. This is very important to consider when putting the “European Migrant Crisis” in a global context.
    • Senators have called for the United States to accept as many as 65,000 Syrian refugees.
    • President Francois Hollande has said France will accept about 24,000 asylum-seekers over two years.
    • Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that the United Kingdom will accept 20,000 refugees by 2020.
    • Few rich Arab nations are accepting refugees, although hundreds of thousands of Syrians already live in wealthy nations along the Persian Gulf. “Vast oil wealth and relatively small citizen populations in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have made the countries prime destinations for workers from poorer Arab countries and elsewhere. While many expatriates are professionals who have built lucrative careers there, most are low-paid laborers who give up their rights to get jobs and can be deported with little notice. There are no paths to refugee status or citizenship.”
      • Officials from these nations say they have funded migration centers abroad and offer immigrants stable jobs—not just state assistance.
      • Many Arab countries are suspected of funding rebel groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, seeking to end the conflict and the creation of new immigrants.


  • Why do some critics hold European and other Western nations (such as the United States and Australia) partly responsible for the immigration crisis? Skim the BBC article for some help.
    • Critics point to a lack of Western intervention in the years leading up to the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
    • On the other hand, critics point to aggressive Western intervention in the politics of Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


  • The BBC article uses the terms “slick” and “sticky” to refer to European migration policies. What do these terms mean?
    • A “slick” immigration policy allows immigrants and asylum-seekers to slide through borders on their way to more desirable locations. Greece and Serbia have slick policies.
    • A “sticky” immigration policy allows immigrants to stay in the country for either a short or long period of time.
    • Many European nations refuse to be either slick or sticky, discouraging immigrants from entering their borders entirely. Hungary, through which many immigrants pass on their way to Austria and Germany, is one such country. Denmark, through which immigrants pass hoping to reach Norway or Sweden, is another. Critics say these policies are anti-immigrant, while supporters say they recognize a reality that host nations cannot financially support so many new residents: “We have to face the reality that these people do not simply want refugee status,” says Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “They are really after the German way of life.”


  • What is next for the asylum-seekers in Germany? Read through this BBC Q&A for some help.
    • 1. Immigrants will register at “welcome centers” in big cities such as Munich and Frankfurt. Here, they will receive information and humanitarian aid (food and health care).
    • 2. Immigrants will be housed in relief shelters. Here, they can apply for asylum (this is crucial). Asylum-seekers can stay in shelters for about 6 weeks to 3 months.
    • 3. Immigrants will be offered relocation according to the so-called Königsteiner Key. This policy distributes asylum-seekers across Germany’s 16 states, calculated according to the state’s tax revenue and population. For example, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state (home to urban areas such as Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Essen) and a major industrial area, has the biggest distribution allotment. The Königsteiner Key is somewhat controversial, but vital to Germany’s amazingly efficient crisis-management system. Read more about the policy here.
    • 4. After three months, asylum-seekers may be able to look for work.



  • Many British and other European leaders have talked about “immigration quotas.” What are these? Read through this BBC article for some help.
    • In this context, asylum quotas refer to sharing the burden of asylum claims fairly among European Union states. Many leaders have considered something similar to a European-wide version of the Königsteiner Key, where the number of asylum-seekers allotted to each state is determined by the state’s tax base and population.
      • France, Germany, and Italy have supported a quota system.
      • The United Kingdom and many Central and Eastern European nations have rejected the idea of a quota system.



BBC: Five reflections on Europe’s migrant crisis

Nat Geo: What is a refugee?

USA Today: Migrants’ or ‘refugees’? Crisis sparks debate on terminology

BBC: EU migration: Crisis in graphics

New York Times: Which Countries Are Under the Most Strain in the European Migration Crisis?

Washington Post: The new land of opportunity for immigrants is Germany

BBC: Migrant crisis: What next for Germany’s asylum seekers?

German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees: Asylum and Refugee Protection

BBC: Migrant crisis: How can EU respond to influx?

Sydney Morning Herald: What you need to know about the European refugee crisis

BBC: Migrant crisis: Nine key moments from the last year

7 thoughts on “Migrant Crisis Q&A

  1. Excellent info for teaching about this current event, thank you NatGeo! This can be a tough topic to cover in class but it is necessary that students learn about the changing world and everything going on in it. The map would be particularly useful for visual learners and could be implemented across many different content areas.

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