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How the Arab Spring and Civil Wars Led to Europe’s Refugee Crisis

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December 2010


Protests in Tunisia mark the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings that see leaders ousted from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The demonstrations largely subside by mid-2012 but evolve into still ongoing civil wars in Syria and Libya.

May 2011

Two months after large-scale protests erupt in the Syrian capital of Damascus and elsewhere, the Syrian government intensifies its violent crackdown on demonstrators, causing the first surge of new refugees to neighboring Lebanon.

June 2011

Unintended consequences

The siege of Jisr al-Shughour in northwest Syria sparks a flight to Turkey. By mid-June, more than 10,000 Syrian refugees are living in camps in Turkey and some 8,500 in Lebanon.

July 2011

Jordan also begins to see a rise in Syrian refugees, most from Dara’a, the southern border town that sparked the initial uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

October 2011

Chaos in Libya

Militias find and kill Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after a NATO-led coalition helps rebels topple his regime. For years, Italy and the E.U. paid Gaddafi to enforce Europe’s sea borders; his regime would intercept migrants on boats and often imprison them in detention centers where violence, rape and torture were common. The overthrow of Gaddafi and ensuing power vacuum soon opens up the sea route to Europe.

December 2011

The U.N. reports that more than 5,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began. By the end of 2011, Turkey has spent up to $15 million to set up six refugee camps.

April 2012

Flight to Kurdistan

Increasing numbers of Syrian refugees of Kurdish origin begin to arrive in the quasi-independent Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, leading to the opening of Domiz refugee camp near Duhok. It remains the largest Syrian refugee camp in Iraq.

July 2012

Fighting intensifies in Aleppo, just 30 miles from the Turkish border, causing an additional 200,000 people to flee. After 6,500 migrants cross into Greece that month, Athens constructs barbed-wire fences and boosts border security.

December 2012

The U.N. refugee agency and its partners ask international donors for $1 billion to support the regional refugee response. Earlier in the year, hundreds of refugees had protested living conditions in Jordan’s Zaatari camp.

March 2013

War worsens

A chemical-weapons attack in the Syrian city of Aleppo results in at least 26 deaths.


Number of Syrian refugees

September 2013

Germany agrees to resettle 5,000 Syrian refugees, who will be allowed to stay for at least two years. At the time, it is the biggest relocation program for the Syrian crisis. Sweden also offers permanent residency to some 12,000 Syrian asylum seekers who had been granted temporary permits.

October 2013

A boat carrying Eritrean, Somali and Ghanaian migrants from Libya to Italy sinks off the Italian island of Lampedusa on Oct. 3. More than 360 people die. A second shipwreck, on Oct. 11, kills 34 people.

June 2014

Rise of ISIS

ISIS takes control of the Iraqi city of Mosul and declares its self-styled caliphate. Hundreds of thousands flee Mosul for the countryside–by late June the U.N. estimates that 1.2 million Iraqis have left their homes.

July 2014

E.U. Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström says Europe must offer safe and legal routes to asylum seekers, to prevent so many risking their lives to reach Europe by boat.

September 2014

President Barack Obama authorizes air strikes against ISIS inside Syria. In late September, as ISIS fighters begin attacking Kurdish villages along the Syrian-Turkish border, more than 130,000 Syrian Kurds flee.

October 2014

Battle of Kobani

The ISIS siege of Kobani, along the Syrian-Turkish border, sparks a mass exodus. The Turkish city of Suruc sees its population double as nearly 400,000 Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey.

November 2014

Italy ends Mare Nostrum, its search-and-rescue operation in the southern Mediterranean. Aid agencies warn this could dramatically increase the number of migrant deaths.

April 2015

More than 800 migrants die on April 19 when a boat sinks in the Mediterranean 70 miles from the Libyan coast. The disaster marks the largest single loss of life involving migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean so far.

June 2015

Border control

Hungary announces plans on June 17 to build a 13-ft.-high fence along the Hungarian-Serbian border–which causes migrants to rush to cross before the 109-mile border is closed.

July 2015

Some 2,100 people storm the Channel Tunnel connecting Britain and France on July 28. The following day, about 1,500 more try to enter the link, and a Sudanese man is crushed to death by a truck. Britain pledges nearly $11 million to bolster security, while poor conditions in the camps in Calais, France, known as the Jungle, gain international attention.

August 2015

Against the backdrop of a major surge in migrant arrivals in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces that her nation will offer temporary asylum to Syrian refugees who manage to reach the country, effectively suspending the E.U.’s Dublin regulation–and encouraging more migrants to make the journey.

September 2015

On Sept. 2, photographs of a drowned 3-year-old boy, Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, appear online, sparking international outrage. On Sept. 25, E.U. ministers vote by a majority to relocate 120,000 refugees across Europe, with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voting against the plan.

October 2015

630,000 Number of illegal border crossings into Europe this year

Officials at the E.U. border agency Frontex say on Oct. 4 they have recorded 630,000 illegal border crossings into Europe this year as of the end of September, with a half-million people crossing the Mediterranean. Though the E.U. approved a plan to tighten border controls, experts believe the numbers will keep rising.


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Write to Naina Bajekal at naina.bajekal@time.com