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Europe grapples with a desperate year for migrants

More than 1 million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe in 2015, driven by violent conflict in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The onslaught of people making the desperate journey shows little signs of abating, as Europe struggles with the massive influx. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant, who has been documenting the crisis across the past year, looks back with Judy Woodruff.

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    One of the biggest stories of 2015 was the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, which is showing little signs of abating.

    PBS NewsHour's own special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has been documenting the historic development for much of the past year, as an eyewitness to the desperate journey of many, and Europe's struggle to grapple with the massive influx.

    Before we speak with him, we hear from some of the many people he has met along the way, and look back at some key moments.


    One of the first greeting migrants on Lesbos, Notelia Aphrodisi Vatti.

  • MAN:


  • WOMAN:

    We feel that history is in the making, of course, right now. There is a huge shift in population right now, the biggest since World War II.

    We are just stepping stones. This is a flow. It's like a river with a constant flow, and it will not stop until some kind of solution is provided, so as these people do not have to leave their homes.

  • MAN:

    My family is dead in Syria. My big brother, dead. I.S. big problem, big problem for army in Syria.

  • WOMAN:

    We are human and we have the right to live. We have the right to have a better future. We have the right to have a secure place. That's why we're trying to leave our country, because of different conditions, situations. Just, we have risked our life.


    British Conservative politician Daniel Hannan.

    Don't you think that you should actually share Greece's burden?

  • DANIEL HANNAN, European Parliament Member:

    It's so easy to try and signal your compassion by saying that the government ought to do something, but the reality is that if we have more amnesties and more people being granted right to remain here, we are encouraging more and more people to make this hellish crossing.

    And the truth is that, if we go down that road, what we would be doing instead is contracting out our immigration policy to these monstrous people traffickers and allowing them to decide who gets into Europe and who doesn't.


    In Izmir, the Turkish gateway to Europe, leading activist Jim Turzy.

  • MAN:

    It's a meeting point for smugglers and the refugees all day and during the day or during the night. They're all coming together here and talking and reaching about the price. It costs $1,000 to go to a Greek island.


    Syrian student Abad al-Muhabul.

  • MAN:

    I'm probably going today, now that the conditions are better than yesterday, hopefully. It might be my death day or might be my salvation day.


    Khaled Hamza from Homs.

  • KHALED HAMZA, Refugee:

    We can't find something in order to help our people here in Turkey. We have no medicine. We have no food. We have no anything in order to continue our lives. We have no schools. Our children are in the streets, in the streets. After five, 10 days, you will see all these children.

  • MAN:

    Five dollars. This is for a child. It cost $5. This shop used to be a shoe repair or a shoe shop. Now they are selling this kind of stuff, life vests. They say they're really good quality, but it's impossible to believe it.


    The Turkish authorities have kept quite some distance away from the survivors, but we have been close enough to one of the buses to hear the most uncontrollable weeping coming from a couple of people who have lost relatives during the sinking.

    Excuse me, sir. Are you the smuggler? Are you the smuggler responsible for these people's deaths?

    Lesbos resident Eric Kempson.

  • ERIC KEMPSON, Volunteer:

    A big boat went down about two hours ago. There's a lot of people still in the water. And I can say the death toll is going to be quite high.


    Survivor Anas Tollah from Damascus.

  • MAN:

    We cannot forget the bodies, the children, everything. So, now are memories. I think it will stay.

    Nareem Tamar from Qamishli, Northern Syria.

  • NAREEM TAMAR, Refugee:

    The situation on the boats was very scary. I'm very happy. I'm glad. I'm glad we are here finally. Thank God. And thank for you to help us.


    Defending Hungary's border fence with Serbia, ultra-conservative Marton Gyongyosi.


    To wait for any type of solution or suggestion from the European Union, this ill institution, it's going to lead nowhere. I think the nation states have to take back into their own hands their own business and also the defense of the civilization that they are part of and defend their own borders.

  • MAN:

    You don't have any I.D.?

  • MAN:

    No I.D.

  • MAN:



    Before introducing border controls, Sweden welcomed Abed Allmugharbel, who we first met in Turkey.


    I never imagined myself outside of home. Now I am from Sweden — I'm in Sweden, it's very happy to be in a very peaceful country where I'm being treated like a human, respect to human rights. Very friendly people here. I mean, it's very happy to be here.


    Sheltering thousands of unaccompanied minors, as Sweden was overwhelmed, Cecilia Lejon.

  • CECILIA LEJON, Trelleborg Council:

    Before, we had, like, two new kids every week, and we thought that that was really a lot. We thought that was a pressure on Trelleborg. And now there are 100 a day.


    Economist Tino Sanadogy.

  • MAN:

    I think it's quite disastrous. It's an irreversible social experiment that no welfare state has ever attempted.


    Sweden's immigration minister Morgan Johansson.

    What do you say to those people who think that your immigration policy, your open-door policy is naive?

  • MORGAN JOHANSSON, Swedish Immigration Minister:

    We're now suffering from one of the worst humanitarian crises in our time, seeing the people running, fleeing from Syria, over 12 million people, from the war. Just turn on your television set and see for yourself what these people are fleeing from. We as a country has an obligation to help.


    After Macedonia barred all but Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, Abdellah Mohammed Halani from Somalia on rejection.

  • MAN:

    So, I have a dream to start a new chapter of my life to decide education, to support my family. But now you see the situation. Totally, it's not fair. Totally, it's not fair. Totally, it's not fair.


    Peter Bouckaert from Human Rights Watch.

  • PETER BOUCKAERT, Human Rights Watch:

    What Europe should be doing is to put in place a more coherent refugee policy which allows for safe and legal ways for these people to reach Europe, because if they drive the smuggling underground even more, it means that they also increase the danger to Europe, because it's much easier for terrorists to slip into this flow of refugees when it's underground.


    And, finally, Aslam Obeid, a Syrian who stayed in Lesbos to help.

  • ASLAM OBEID, Refugee:

    I hope some day that the powerful people and the powerful government will stop the bombing and having more guns to stop the fights. As Gandhi say, you don't fight for peace. You peace for peace.


    And Malcolm Brabant is in Copenhagen. I spoke with him a short time ago.

    Malcolm, welcome.

    That was such an affecting report we just saw. Has it become at all routine, the dealing with these people, the refugees, the migrants? Or is it still as emotionally wrenching as what it seemed to be?


    Well, if I'm answering on behalf of Europe, it's difficult to generalize on behalf of a whole continent.

    But you get a bit of a distorted view, in a way, towards people's reactions in Lesbos, because there you see people getting off the boats, being extremely vulnerable, having risked their lives, shivering in the cold right now.

    And it's very difficult to be anything other than moved at seeing people at their most vulnerable, when they have survived perhaps a life-changing experience.

    But the further you go down the migrant trail, the further northwards, people, I think, are becoming more inured to seeing migrants. Of course, there are tens of millions of people who feel very well disposed towards them and still have a great sense of generosity. But I think people are becoming perhaps a little bit weary of it in certain places.

    And I think one of the main indicators, perhaps, is the reaction there was after the picture of Aylan Kurdi was published. That's the little boy who was found drowned on the Turkish coast. Well, there was a great upsurge in sympathy.

    But since then, you are still having children drowning in greater numbers than perhaps ever before. And I think that people's sympathy has waned because it's just not in their face all the time.


    How clear now is the system for dealing with these people once they reach the shore? Do they then have a process for moving through and moving on? What's it like for them?


    Well, there is nothing official. It's all — it's still — they're still very much in the hands of the smugglers.

    And at the moment, the smugglers and their charges are playing a game of cat and mouse with the Turkish authorities. Over the course of the past month, for example, people have going to various parts of the Turkish coast to get across to Lesbos.

    And it does seem the Turks have been able to sort of turn the tap on and off in terms of the migrants coming across. But, elsewhere, I mean, there are sort of more procedures in place, but the problem is that there is a roadblock in the Macedonian border with Greece and so there are some people who can't go much further.

    Further north, in places like Denmark and Sweden, for example, which I'm pretty close to right now, they're having trouble accommodating all of these people, and they are having to put up tents in the frozen north.


    What does it look like them for the future? Is there a sense that countries are figuring out what they're going to do with these refugees or does it feel as chaotic as it has?


    It does feel fairly chaotic.

    I think some of the early arrivals are probably sort of settling down. I have talked to various people that I have met on the trail. Some are settling down in Sweden, and in Germany, and trying to make the most of the opportunities that are being offered to them.

    But I think that there are a lot of people who are very frustrated at what is happening to them. And the long-term future is difficult to talk about really, because the numbers of people coming in are so huge, that there are some places that are going to struggle to absorb them.

    For example, Sweden has taken in nearly 200,000 people. And, basically, it's got to build a city of 200,000 to try to accommodate them. And, for example, their building program next year was only designed to sort of build about 45,000 houses.

    So there is a massive infrastructure program that has to go on, besides all of providing schooling for these people, getting them into Swedish lessons, so that they can become more acceptable to employers.

    But there are lots of people who are perhaps going to be very frustrated at what they end up with, because they have been peddled dreams by traffickers at the front end of the whole system, saying that you're going to be given a house, you're going to be given lots of money.


    Well, we think about it in terms of this massive shift in population, but, as you point out so well, Malcolm, it is — each one is a human being with a different path.

    Thank you very much for all your reporting this year, Malcolm.


    You're welcome.

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