For five years, Syrians, fleeing from their war torn country, have sought sanctuary throughout Europe and Asia. Popular destinations such as Turkey, Greece, and Germany find themselves hosting large numbers of refugees. This influx raises several questions in regards to tourism: Is it a good time to visit? How safe is it? Can I help? While we can’t make these decisions for you, we can shine some light on a confusing topic so that you can make travel decisions with the best information possible.
It’s probably best to mention right off the bat that most these destinations are still quite safe. While some tension does exist between residents and Syrian migrants, and stricter borders means longer travel times, visitors shouldn’t worry about adopting any new safety precautions. Most migrants that enter Europe’s interior do so legally with proper documentation and the financial means to travel. Nevertheless, with such a large displaced population, other issues arise.
Turkey alone accepted nearly two-million refugees over the course of the civil war and such a large number doesn’t integrate overnight. The entire country, including Istanbul, sees markets filled to capacity with people selling whatever they can to get by. Many resort to panhandling. Homelessness flourishes as refugees seek shelter in the streets. Most of the two million live in refugee camps located in the southern states, but many Syrians enter Istanbul with the intention of entering Europe. If you’re traveling to Istanbul, expect huge crowds in the markets, and longer than normal travel times to attractions.
European countries deal with only a fraction of these issues, but place great emphasis to border security. While international travel overseas remains unaffected, inter-European travel can be problematic depending on the country. Germany and Greece opened their doors to large numbers of refugees. While Greece sits right next door to Turkey, traveling to Germany requires passage through several countries. This has severely bogged down travel time along the roads and train lines. Major transportation hubs in Munich see refugees in the thousands. It also means heavy, and long, border checks for every refugee that passes from country to country. So for example, while Budapest has closed its doors to refugees, there are still thousands looking to catch trains or other modes of transportation to Germany (among the other countries that still permit them). Within Germany, expect a mild to strong refugee presence in the markets, parks, terminals, and other popular resort areas especially in the southern state of Bavaria where camps have been set up to temporarily house them.
This brings up the last point, is there any merit to helping? The answer is a resounding yes and many have. Tourists in Greece, for example, altered their holiday plans to help displaced refuges. Donating food and other necessities while abroad is also a good way to help, but experts caution against transportation as giving someone a ride could be confused with smuggling. “Help is much appreciated,” Ruth Schoeffl, High Commissioner for Refugees of Austria, said speaking to the Washington Post. “It can also be just listening and sharing a light moment.”