Keeping Current: Shifting Views on Migration

Europe’s embrace of Ukrainian refugees could change the EU’s refugee policy, says Penn State Harrisburg political scientist Juliette Tolay.

Crowd at train station

“Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, an unprecedented number of Ukrainian refugees have entered Europe. It has been heartwarming to see the warm welcome European countries have given them. But this openness has also cast an uncomfortable light on Europe’s attitude toward refugees from other parts of the world, including Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, Europe has become progressively less open to migration since the establishment of the borderless Schengen area in 1995—which also strengthened external borders to keep non-Europeans out—and particularly since the increased influx of refugees from Syria and other places in summer 2015.

“The Ukrainian crisis opens up possibilities for a paradigm shift in European refugee policy. Only six days into the crisis, Europe activated the Temporary Protection Directive, providing immediate, temporary protection for displaced Ukrainians. This positive step should be replicated for other displaced populations. Also, Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary that were categorically opposed to accepting refugees in 2015–2016 now have the highest number of Ukrainians, so they now have a very strong incentive to call for solidarity, for a more open refugee policy at the European level.

“My research has shown that most Europeans don’t have clear thoughts on migration. Responsible leaders can change that: A far-right narrative, for example, provides meaning to a certain feeling, but that can be done the opposite way, too. I hope some leaders will stand up and make it clear that foreigners, no matter their origins, deserve protection and can be a positive force in their host communities.”