The ongoing war in Syria is just one factor in the surge in the number of people seeking asylum in Europe, estimated by the UN to total 1 million in 2015. Looking across Europe's south-eastern and southern Neighbours, and beyond, there are a range of factors likely to push increasing numbers into seeking to move to Europe, says a report from ESPON.
"The ongoing conflict in Syria, the instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East and different parts of Africa is very likely to force more and more people to seek asylum in Europe which could bring along even larger migration flows in the future. In addition, the demographic and economic factors especially in Sub-Saharan African countries as well as high poverty and unemployment rates in the Western Balkans may further aggravate this challenge."
Crucially, the report points to the deteriorating conditions in many of the countries generating large outward movements. Poor education, rising unemployment, and climate change are factors that operate in diverse countries of origin, but with the same outcomes.
The challenge for local governments
The researchers argue that integration of the new arrivals could boost urban and regional development within the host countries. The migrants are mainly from economically active age groups. However, to harness this potential requires integration measures that are tailored to the diverse backgrounds of the in-coming people. Cities are their main destination, and so, the report says, urban policy and regional and local development startegies should address these needs. Cities are also where undocumented migrants are likely to seek to stay if their asylum applications are refused.
The authors observe that "it is typically up to municipalities to ensure that asylum seekers settle in well for the duration of their stay, however short or long it may be. This situation requires systematic and coordinated efforts at local level involving a range of stakeholders. This could enable asylum seekers to make a contribution to their host societies and could prevent long term costs for local and national authorities".
The report also highlights the situation in small islands and municipalities in border regions where the number of people arriving is large in relation to the local population and the capacity of local government.
In addition, new research presented by Heinz Fassmann at the ESPON conference in Luxembourg, reported that in Austria a third of the asylum applicants are from Syria, but another third are from Albania and Kosovo. In Germany, 31% of asylum applicants are under 18, and another 49% are between 19 and 34. Roughly two-thirds are male. A pilot study in Vienna found that 65% of the Syrians had only primary-level education, with just 7% having tertiary level.