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Why are Syrian Refugees Seeking Europe over Arab States?

UNHCR/ M. Hofer

Under a striking, overcast sky, a long line of women wait to register with UNHCR in the town of Arsal. UNHCR/ M. Hofer/

Aleteia - published on 09/11/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Only a few years ago, migrants sought refuge in Libya, Israel and Lebanon

Italy/Aleteia ( – Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have painted every refugee that might enter their countries as violent and antagonistic. They are claiming that they could also bring subversive ideologies with them that would be antithetical to the stability of these regions.

We recently interviewed Roland Lombardi, who is an independent consultant and expert in international relations specializing in North Africa, the Middle East and geopolitical, defense and security challenges.

Interviewer: “The refugee crisis that Europe is currently facing is, by and large, linked to people coming from Syria and Afghanistan. Additionally, Syrians are going through the Balkans after crossing through Turkey. However, the Gulf States are much closer geographically. What can be surmised by their choice to take this route?”

Roland Lombardi: “First, I would like to provide some clarifications. It is true that the number of refugees arriving in the midst of this present crisis that has struck Europe are Syrian. Close behind them in numbers are the Somalis, Afghanis and sub-Saharan Africans. It is worth indicating that only a few short years ago these refugees were heading to Libya, Israel and Lebanon. However, the Libyans are currently immersed in chaos, Israel has strengthened its policies, especially regarding immigration and Lebanon is no longer capable of assimilating any more refugees. This is what is driving refugees to currently head towards Europe.

“In the past few days the Western media has been focusing on the large influx of defenseless Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees arriving in the Balkans. However, it is important to not forget that southern Italy and Spain are equally acquainted with the pressures of the level of immigration.

“More than 100,000 refugees have illegally arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2015. The International Organization for Migration, from its headquarters in Geneva, has reported that 1770 men, women and children have either died or are presumed missing whilst attempting to cross the Mediterranean since January. The number of deaths and missing from attempting to cross the Mediterranean reached 3400 in 2014. Astonishingly, that number had already reached 2800 refugees between July 2014 and the end of the year.

“Accordingly, as you have already asked, why are these refugees; most of whom are Muslim, choosing to go to Europe instead of the Gulf States? This is a paradox, because due to the proximity of borders and cultures it would be easier and more preferable for them to get into Europe by first going through the oil-rich Gulf States.

“Even if everything was in fact relative, Europe is always looked to and is considered the place to go and a refuge of stability, security and peace. For years relaxed European Union policies regarding the level of immigration, the various social and medical services offered to refugees, the absence of cooperation and solidarity in dealing with this unprecedented crisis, in addition to the recent indecision and inability of European officials have only contributed in aggravating the seriousness of the crisis. Unlike its reluctant partners like France or Austria’s complete refusal to accept refugees, Germany has announced its willingness to accept what is estimated to be close to 800,000 refugees.”

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