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We Asked Our European Offices What Refugees Should Expect In Their Countries

It seems that for much of Europe, civil society is better at helping refugees than governments are.

af VICE Staff
24 september 2015, 2:10pm

A Greek refugee camp. Photo via International Rescue Committee.

Last night, European politicians met in Brussels to discuss Europe's biggest ever refugee crisis. All the government leaders were called into the emergency talks but , in the end, little came out of it other than a decision to spend a whole bunch more money trying to stem the flow of people. That and a decision to up the surveillance and be more strict with finger printing in Greece and Italy. The chairman of the summit warned that the situation was going to get a lot worse before it would get better.

As more and more refugees continue their journey through Europe, we wanted to know how these people – who are fleeing from their war torn homelands – were being treated at their final destination. In order to get an overview, we reached out to our European offices and asked what conditions refugees should expect when they arrive.

Sweden

Refugees are offered help immediately after arriving in Sweden. Police officers, migration agency workers, social services and Red Cross volunteers are at the main train stations 24 hours a day. There are also civilian volunteers offering people food, clothes and hygiene products. The social services take care of all unaccompanied minors while the migration agency look after the rest. If you are a refugee and want to apply for asylum in Sweden, the migration agency will pay for a taxi to the nearest migration board to deal with the paperwork. After that, they will sort you out with temporary accommodation or a lift to a relative or a friend that you can live with.

Naturally, there's also the usual right-wing idiots who think that refugees are going to ruin the country, but luckily their numbers pale in comparison to those willing to help. ––– Camila Catalina, Online Editor

France

This year, France will accept 24,000 Syrian refugees. Numerous towns have said openly that they are ready to welcome those arriving. Refugees are also given temporary social benefits of between €3 and €11.45 euros per day. But things aren't all that simple when it comes to social integration in certain parts of the country that are struggling with employment. Refugees should also be aware that finding work in France is quite difficult right now. A survey conducted in September listed 3 million people as unemployed.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the extreme-right wing Le Pen family has grown in popularity amongst moderate voters and there is a good chance that Marine le Pen will do quite well in the next presidential elections. There's also reports of growing racial tension in places like Calais – a town hit hard by the refugee crisis. ––– Émilie Fenaughty, Staff Writer

Refugee camp in Calais. Photo by Jake Lewis.

Romania

Upon arriving in Romania, refugees are given €20 worth of food and €4 spending money to last them a month. Which really isn't a lot consider an average restaurant meal costs about €15. They also receive free healthcare but, like all other Romanians, are aware that if you can't afford to bribe the doctors, you won't be given any help.

If the government grants them a residence permit, they are entitled to €122 a month for nine months (about half the minimum wage) and placed in an integration programme. They are allowed to work but the job market is horrible.

A recent poll shows that over two thirds of Romanians aren't in favour of refugees living here. We don't have a far-right party as such, but we have quite a few extremist organisations and media outlets – who are busy making massive scare campaigns about refugees and Muslims. Thankfully, violence against asylum seekers is relatively unheard of.

The EU has said that they assist Romania with €6000 per refugee, but there is a good chance that money will end up stolen or get lost along the way. Romania is already expect to return hundreds of millions of euros in misused European money. ––– Mihai Popescu, Senior Editor

Denmark

Refugees arriving in Denmark shouldn't expect to be welcomed with open arms. At least according to the right-wing government's Integration Minister Inger Støjberg, who recently had ads printed in Lebanese and Turkish newspapers warning refugees that Denmark isn't all that great a place for them. This in part due to the fact that the government has slashed refugee benefits by about 50 percent.

This year Denmark is expected to receive 20,000 refugees. This has made the right wing rage against what they call "refugees of convenience." The recent arrival of a Germany ferry carrying 230 Syrian refugees was met with mixed reactions. While some arrived with supplies, while others used the opportunity to spit on the refugees from highway bridges. It seems, however, that the government's general scare strategy has payed off, as the majority of refugees who have made it to Denmark in fact would prefer to leave the country for Sweden as soon as possible. Recognising this, the police allowed the initial group of refugees to walk the 150 kilometres through Denmark, without being registered, in order to get to Sweden.

However, a minority of refugees decided to stay in Denmark. Those who do choose to register here are moved to an asylum centre, where they're offered Danish language classes. If they pass, they'll be eligible for an extra €200 euro per month on top of the €736 a month (before taxes), that adults without children receive. Adult couples with children are eligible to receive up to €2,230 a month.

The procedure to obtain a one year residence permit is expedited for Syrian refugees, and should only take a few months according to authorities. Once approved, they'll be able to work and search for a home of their own. ––– Andreas Digens, Staff Writer

Italy

The Italian asylum system is rather complicated, plagued by both bureaucracy and the infinite waiting time an asylum application requires. Once in the country, however, refugees can apply for protection via the border police or the immigration offices – in which case they are identified and their fingerprints are taken. At the immigration office, they have to prove they are targets of personal and direct persecution.

Undocumented refugees, or those who need to be checked more throughly, are gathered in reception camps. Among these camps are the CARAs (Accommodation Centres for Asylum Seekers): the biggest in Europe is located in Mineo, Sicily; it gives shelter to more than 3,000 people and recently it has been in the spotlight for political corruption issues. Then, there are the CIEs (Identification and Expulsion Centres), referred to by critics as "lagers".

Finally, there is the ordinary network of migrant reception centres – all of which differ in size and quality of living conditions.

The stay in these centres – where each refugee is entitled to €2.50 a day – isn't supposed to last more than a month; but in reality, the verification time for refugees' applications is so long that it can take more than one year. In early 2015, according to the latest report on international security in Italy, 47 percent of asylum applications have been rejected. When the application is rejected, refugees have to be either repatriated or simply expelled from the country. But as the Italian government lacks the resources to do so, migrants quite often find themselves in an uncertain state of illegality.

As if the bureaucratic problems weren't enough, extreme right parties have attacked (sometimes physically) reception centres on various occasions, and politicians such as Matteo Salvini – secretary of Lega Nord, the third most popular political party according to recent opinion polls – repeatedly tell people that those arriving in Italy are "fake refugees," and that we need to think "to Italian people first."

Luckily, though, civil society seems to function far better than government policies, and you can find activists and groups helping refugees throughout the country.

––– Leonardo Bianchi, News Editor

GREECE

Greece is basically the front-gate to Europe right now – with the vast majority of refugees arriving to one of its many small islands, having crossed the Mediterranean in a dinghy.

The Greek government and local authorities have not yet managed to find a permanent solution for refugees accommodation, medical care, food supply or transportation to mainland Greece. The system of identification has improved, but the entire process remains time consuming. Refugees are expected to pay for another boat to go to Athens. More often than not, a trafficker will approach you and take you out of the country, in order to continue your journey.

Thankfully, there are a lot of volunteer initiatives to provide a helping hand.

That said, the country has a ton of racists and fascists, like the the members of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party who are currently being tried as a criminal organisation, yet still managed to become the third strongest force in Parliament – predominantly receiving votes from racists that live in the islands or other parts of the country that you now pass through. Unfortunately, as the weather gets cold and the rains start, conditions for refugees will only get worse, especially if they are attempting to cross the Evros area, close to the border, where there is also a fence.

––– Melpomeni Maragkidou, News Editor

GERMANY

Should you end up in Germany as a refugee, you might be welcomed by a crowd of chanting volunteers handing you bottles of water and free chocolate bars. On the other hand you should be aware that despite all the hospitality and willingness to help, Germans are still obsessed with paper work, so you will have to wait for months for your asylum request to be processed. You should also know that most refugees centres are overcrowded and sanitary standards are very low. Some people even have to sleep on the street as the authorities are no longer able to cope with the amount of new arrivals. On top of this you might be confronted by racism or xenophobic hooligans looking for trouble. So beware of bald headed Nazis waving the German flag and the so-called "worried citizens" protesting against the "islamisation of Germany" and setting fire to planned refugee homes. That said, it's also quite reassuring to see virtually every German celebrity being really outspoken about the need to help refugees and a large part of the public working actively – on social media and in real life – to put these assholes into their place.

––– Sophie-Charlotte Claassen, Staff Writer

Netherlands

The Netherlands is a bit further down the road than Germany for most refugees, but the Germans and the Dutch share a talent for organising things swiftly and efficiently – including care for refugees. While a lot of the shelters are overcrowded and understaffed, in recent weeks countless private initiatives have popped up – like people collecting clothing and food or launching an Airbnb-style site that connects refugees with people wanting to take them in. When Red Cross called for volunteers, 10,000 people registered in 24 hours. But at the same time, there have been small-scale protests against planned refugee shelters in countless communities. So it seems that a lot of people are willing to help, as long as the shelter isn't anywhere near their backyard.

This schism is evident in the parliament too: Alexander Pechtold, leader of the progressive liberal centre party D66 complimented municipalities in the Netherlands for putting up hundreds of refugees in places like event centres and abandoned holiday parks. Most MPs stood up to applaud him, but right-wing Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders later took to the stage to call the Parliament "fake", claiming that its politicians don't represent the "millions" of Dutch people who want nothing to do with refugees. Pechtold then called Wilders "undemocratic", while a Labour Party member tweeted that Wilders was basically a fascist leader, and it all got very awkward and unpleasant there, for a bit.

So if you're coming to the Netherlands as a refugee, you'll be in good hands for a while. If you decide to stay, however, that's a different story: There have been huge cuts in funding for integration processes for migrants and asylum seekers and getting an actual residence permit can take years. But for now, the Dutch generally think you're very welcome, as long as you're not staying anywhere too close to their home. ––– Lisette Van Eijk, Content Manager

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