Are Western Leaders To Blame For Europe’s Refugee Crisis?

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The European Union is currently facing the worst migrant crisis since World War II. It’s estimated that 3,000 people are migrating to Europe each day, and more than 300,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year as opposed to 219,000 in 2014. European leaders apparently have no idea how to deal with the refugee crisis.

Some Europeans on the right of the political spectrum have turned to nativism to oppose the influx of foreigners. Far right parties have reached new heights in popularity as the general public shows their xenophobic tendencies. On the left, politicians have promoted an open border policy that is having disastrous effects on the social welfare apparatus in EU countries. Social programs are in danger of going bankrupt if the migrants continue to cross the borders in record numbers.

The Human Aspect Of The Problem

What’s often lost in all of the talk of open borders and chants of “Europe for Europeans,” is the human aspect of the problem. Europe is in the middle of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. People attempting to get into Europe are dying at an alarming rate. This was gruesomely demonstrated last week when 71 Syrian refugees were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria. The causalities included 60 men, eight women, and three young children.

These types of deaths are happening much too often. Thousands of people have died this year attempting to seek asylum in Europe. The West needs to take a step back and look at the situation before they can solve it. They need to think about the cause of the recent influx of migrants. When they do that, they will realize that they – Western political leaders – have created this crisis and that they will have to figure out a way to deal with it.


The route from Libya to Italy is the shortest maritime crossing in the central Mediterranean, and has become the busiest waterway for migrants crossing into Europe. But Libya wasn’t always a launching point for Africans trying to get to Europe. Actually, this has only been the case since 2011.

In the midst of the Arab Spring in 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi cracked down on protestors inside the country. The Libyan government ruthlessly attacked and imprisoned the opposition forces. The international community took notice of this and decided to act.

On 17 March, 2011 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya. NATO acted quickly in response to the UN resolution and began a military intervention in the country. They armed various groups of Libyan rebels in an attempt to overthrow Gaddafi, and they were eventually successful as the Libyan strongman was removed from power. 

Image Source: Nytimes

With Gaddafi out of the picture, NATO apparently thought the mission was over, because they took no steps to stabilize the country. There are now two separate governments ruling Libya, and the nation is in a perpetual state of civil war. Radical militias armed by the West constantly wreak havoc on civilians, and human traffickers have carte blanche.

This chaos has caused Libyans to flee to Europe in droves. Before the civil war, Gaddafi had recently signed a series of agreements with the EU to control migration from Libya, but those agreements were worthless after his ouster. Before 2011, Libyan migration to Europe was under 15,000, and one year after the war, it had increased to over 60,000.

So the West basically destroyed the country, armed radical militias, and let them fight over whatever was left.  If Western leaders are looking for someone to blame in Libya, they better start with themselves. Astonishingly, Libyans aren’t even the largest group of migrants racing towards Europe. The two largest migrant groups are Syrians and Somalis.

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The situation in Syria is quite similar to the one in Libya. Civil wars are currently ripping both nations apart. In both cases, the U.S. and other Western powers got involved in the conflict in order to overthrow established leaders. They have not succeeded in Syria, however, as Bashar al-Assad is still clinging to power. The U.S. still apparently holds out hope that he will be removed, but they don’t appear to know who to support.

As in Libya, they bombed the country into little more than a pile of rubble, armed various militant groups – including ISIL (allegedly) – and then encouraged all the groups to fight over whatever they could salvage from the rubble. The result has been an unparalleled level of violence that has driven Syrians from the country and into Europe.

The U.S. and its Western allies’ intervention in Syria was a miserable failure. They have created one of the most violent and chaotic political climates in recent history. The West no longer seems interested in negotiating any type of meaningful peace plan; instead they are content to watch Syria burn as its citizens flee the country.


Al Shabaab is one of the most violent military organizations in the world. They rule parts of Somalia via a campaign of terror unlike anything seen on the African continent in quite some time. They murder Somali citizens, attack foreign aid workers, and impose draconian religious law in the territories they control. Al Shabaab’s tactics have forced Somalis to flee the country in massive numbers and to seek asylum in Europe. Al Shabaab didn’t evolve in a vacuum; however, the West facilitated their rise to power.

Somali Refugees-Image Source: Rcusa

In 1960, Somalia gained independence from colonial rule. The nation was then governed by a confusing mix of tribal structures and colonial bureaucracy that was ineffective at best. Somalia was ripe for a military dictatorship and it took just nine years for Siade Barre to take power and establish an authoritarian regime.

Barre initially claimed to be an ally of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, but turned to the United States when the USSR sided with Ethiopia during the Somali-Ethiopian war of 1977. Even though Barre was a brutal dictator that murdered his own people, the United States was still happy to have him as an ally, and showered him with cash. The money never actually got to the Somali people, and they soon found themselves living in devastating poverty and fear of a violent and oppressive regime.

After the cold war, the U.S. lost interest in propping up Barre and he was eventually overthrown. The country descended into a hellish chaos. Violent warlords battled for supremacy at the expense of the citizens. Most attempts at actual legitimate governments were destroyed by terrorist groups and the nation splintered into several unrelated factions.

At the height of their power, Al Shabaab controlled large swaths of the country, including many major cities. They still reign over much of the Somali countryside with an iron fist and commit terrorist attacks throughout the nation. U.S. intervention in Somalia made it possible for groups like Al Shabaab to flourish. The rise of Al Shabaab and similar groups has caused Somalis to evacuate the country in favor of Europe.

The West has never done well at taking the blame. They would much rather play the roles of problem solver rather than problem creator. In this case, they are going to have to do both. Western leaders must realize that their feckless foreign policy has led to a disastrous humanitarian crisis. Until the West can admit their mistakes, they have no hope in solving the problems they have created.

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