Emergency and Humanitarian Organizations in the European Refugee and Migrant Crisis 2015/16 – Understanding the Interconnectedness of Responses, Practices, and Processes

Keywords: refugee and migrant crisis 2015/16, disaster management, humanitarian aid

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants into Europe overwhelmed the capacities of responsible services in several European countries, resulting in multiple humanitarian and political crises. While Mediterranean countries were predominantly confronted with refugees and migrants arriving by boat and in need of first services, countries along the different routes, for instance the Balkan route, dealt with aspects of transit migration such as short-term sheltering and transport. The task of organizing temporary and permanent accommodation and provisions for an, at the time, unknown number of people fell to the desired destination countries, such as Germany and Sweden.

Responses to these situations in varying European contexts differ significantly and involve a great variety of actors. In ‘non-crisis’ times, the reception and accommodation of refugees as well as the allocation of provisions, fall under the regular jurisdiction of government entities and/or social welfare organizations. While these organizations continued to provide support, additional civil protection and disaster management organizations carried out their largest operations in many European countries during the 2015/16 period. Further, this time was marked by record setting civil society engagement. In some places, for instance Germany’s central reception centers (“Warteräume”) or in Greece, operations were even carried out under the umbrella of international humanitarian aid, specifically regarding practices, standards, and funding (e.g., DG ECHO, UNHCR). As a result, an unprecedented hybrid situation emerged that involved regular social services, large-scale, well-established disaster and emergency management operations, unaffiliated citizen responders, and international humanitarian operations.

Despite the analytical separation, these very different contexts and responses need to be seen as highly dependent on both European and national political decisions and dynamics as well as in terms of their own interconnection with one another and the broader political context. Thus, multi-sited and transdisciplinary research is needed to understand the respective responses, practices, and processes.

The panel invites contributions of researchers and practitioners in order

  • to better understand the multi-sited interconnectedness of responses and actions,
  • to develop a comparative understanding of responses, practices and processes,
  • to analyze the effects of different approaches in terms of efficient services and provisions,
  • to understand the mutual effects of responses and political decisions/decision-making,
  • to analyze the implications for future European crisis situations in the context of refugees, migrants, and beyond,
  • to study the effects of these experiences on disaster management and humanitarian emergency responses in general,
  • and to facilitate a European exchange of knowledge in this emerging field.


de Radigues, Laetitia; Gammarelli, Ludovico (2016): Applying the European Commission’s Humanitarian Expertise to Respond to Needs Inside Europe. In: Humanitarian Exchange 67, September 2016, 8-10.
UNHCR (2016a): Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Europe. January to December 2017. http://www.unhcr.org/partners/donors/589497d07/2017-regional-refugee-migrant-response-plan-europe-january-december-2017.html

Panel chairs

Daniel F. Lorenz

Daniel F. Lorenz is a researcher at the Disaster Research Unit (DRU), Freie Universität Berlin. His research focusses on disaster sociology, vulnerability and resilience as well as emergency management in the European refugee and migrant crisis. daniel.lorenz@fu-berlin.de

Dr. Cordula Dittmer

Cordula Dittmer is a research at the Disaster Research Unit (DRU), Freie Universität Berlin. Her research is based in peace and conflict studies and disaster sociology. Her current research interest lies on emergency management in the European refugee and migrant crisis. cordula.dittmer@fu-berlin.de