Magazine article The New Yorker

Unopen Doors

Magazine article The New Yorker

Unopen Doors

Article excerpt

UNOPEN DOORS

Last Tuesday, a group of refugees, many of them Syrians, walked quickly through a field outside the Hungarian village of Roszke. They had broken out of what amounted to a holding pen, where the authorities had kept them, in increasingly desperate conditions, for days. They were going to Budapest and then, they hoped, on to Austria, Germany, or Sweden. When the police tried to bring them back, they started to run. Reporters were there, too, and, as a man carrying a preschooler raced past a camerawoman, she tripped him, and he and the child tumbled to the ground. Her move was caught on video; another clip shows her kicking a small girl, wearing green pants, her hair in a ponytail, as she runs by. (The camerawoman has reportedly been fired.) What may be most remarkable about the scene is that the girl maintains her balance and doesn't look back. She keeps going.

"Everything which is now taking place before our eyes threatens to have explosive consequences for the whole of Europe," Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, wrote in an op-ed earlier this month, and that is true, even if Orban--who warns of Europeans becoming a minority in their own continent, their countries "overrun" and no longer Christian--is far from a reliable framer of the principles at stake. Many of the refugees are from Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but a growing proportion are Syrian, and the sense of hopelessness about the civil war there is a key reason that their numbers are rising. At transit points like the Greek island of Kos, people are sleeping in the open, but the tensions are not restricted to Europe's less wealthy margins. The Danish government took out ads in Lebanese newspapers telling potential refugees that it planned to make life harder for them, and briefly cut off its rail connections to Germany, in order to curtail their movement.

For some refugees, the journey to Europe began four years ago, when war broke out in Syria. They have spent months or years in crowded camps in Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon, countries that have, together, taken in almost four million Syrians, putting stress on their political systems as well as on basic utilities. And yet the refugees' presence seemed to strike Europeans as a sudden apparition, a late-summer storm. Harrowing images of a truck filled with bodies and of a toddler drowned on a Turkish beach were followed by scenes at Budapest's central Keleti station, where thousands of refugees were kept from boarding trains to Western Europe. After many of them tried to head to Austria on foot, they were allowed for a time to proceed on buses and trains. On September 5th, they began arriving at Munich's main station, where they were met by local volunteers bearing food, water, and, for the children, stuffed animals.

Under what's known as the Dublin System, the E.U. country responsible for a given refugee is generally the one in which he or she first arrives. But differences in geography and generosity have created imbalances. Germany and Sweden have said that they will effectively put aside the Dublin restrictions in the case of Syrian refugees, and many migrants try to avoid registering until they can reach one of those nations. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has surprised many with her emotional appeals to Europe's conscience, has announced that Germany expects eight hundred thousand applicants for refugee status this year, and her government said that the country can absorb up to half a million applicants a year for a period after that. …

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