Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Opinion

Life or death: entering fortress Europe

  • Many people try to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa (Photo: Antonio Amendola)

Z. is a Syrian refugee I met four years ago. Just before the Syrian civil war started, he managed to escape the country where he had been a lawyer and human rights activist.

The Bashar regime’s security forces imprisoned many of his friends. After his escape from Syria, Z. ended up in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Undocumented migrants make for an informal 20th commune in Brussels, one of the biggest in the city. (Photo: Augustin Palokaj)

The story of how Z. escaped Syria and his subsequent journey to Belgium, which he told me in fluent English, was something you would not wish on your worst enemy. The Belgian government was less impressed and initially refused to give him papers.

There are many like Z. in Europe. Brussels has 19 communes, but there is an unofficial ‘20th commune’ – that of undocumented migrants – which is probably the biggest in the city.

’Flooded’ by refugees

People all over Europe believe that most of the refugees of the world are coming to their countries. This belief is often fuelled by politicians, who depict migrants as abusing social security benefits and taking locals’ jobs.

But it is worth looking at the facts.

Since World War II, there has never been as many refugees in the world. For the first time in history, the main reason is not war. It is climate change. According to the UN, there are currently over 51 million people forcibly displaced.

In 2013, 17 million people were refugees. Half of the world’s refugees in 2013 were children. In Europe there were only 435,385 applications for asylum in the 28 European member states in 2013. In other words, the wealthiest part of the world received merely 2.5 percent of the refugees.

According to the most recent UN data, there are about 3.9 million Syrian refugees. Some 3.7 million of these are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

Between spring 2011, when the Syrian civil war erupted, and December 2014, only 5.6 percent or 217,000 Syrians took refuge in Europe.

Getting to Europe has become the most dangerous journey in the world for refugees. Migrant Offshore Aid Station estimates that 2015 will be the deadliest year so far. According to research, at least 40,000 refugees have died since 2000 while trying to make their way to Europe.

Depite these figures, the EU cut funding for Mare Nostrum, a search-and-rescue operation for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and replaced it with the Triton operation, which is not focused on search-and-rescue and which does not operate in international waters. The EU has invested around €2 billion to protect its borders and keep refugees out.

Migrants, the future of Europe

It is time the EU admits that its migration policies have failed and takes action in order to avoid more tragedies.

Traditional mainstream parties need to change their discourse on migration – and stop imitating the rhetoric of the far-right.

In addition, the migration debate should be based on correct statistics. Too often politicians throw out incorrect or out-of-context figures. Citizens have the right to a public debate that is accurate.

With some of the wealthiest countries in the world, the EU should shoulder its responsibility and host more refugees.

The thinking on how to approach migration also needs a fundamental change. The millions of euros spent on the security of borders, could be used to establish legal trajectories to Europe.

Part of this new thinking would be a general acknowledgement that Europe needs migrants. Its ageing workforces need replacing. Meanwhile studies have shown that migrants pay out more in taxes than they receive in state benefits.

Two years ago Z. received permission to stay and work in Belgium. He has since learned Dutch and French, has a full-time job, and is volunteering during his spare time.

Refugees need solidarity today. Tomorrow they will be the ones contributing to a better future for Europe. All they need is opportunities. To start with, they need to be given the chance to live.

Bleri Lleshi is Brussels based political philosopher and author of various books. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Investigation

Fortress Europe

EUobserver's Nikolaj Nielsen visited the Greek-Turkish border in November to see what 'Fortress Europe' means in practice for refugees and people smugglers trying to get into the Union.

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

A new Commission for the one percent

We are only baffled by how nakedly Ursula von der Leyen's commission represents the very crisis affecting the EU. These commission nominees can expect their toughest questioning yet, they must be held accountable to those they should be representing.

How EU trains discriminate against the disabled

EU law requires us to give two days' notice to get the assistance we need, even for our daily commutes. We can't travel like everyone else. It is frustrating, annoying and time-consuming. In short, it is unacceptable.

News in Brief

  1. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  2. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan
  3. Minsk talks bode ill for EU's peace summit on Ukraine
  4. Poll: Poland's nationalist rulers to win October election
  5. Irish lawyers clash with EU commission in Apple case
  6. NGOs take aim at EU smartphone pollution
  7. EU adds €100m to research and Erasmus budgets
  8. Ambassador: UK Poles should 'seriously consider' leaving

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Column

The benefits of being unpopular

Paradoxically, the lack of popularity may be part of the strength of the European project. Citizens may not be super-enthusiastic about the EU, but when emotions run too high in politics, hotheads may take over.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  2. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  3. A new Commission for the one percent
  4. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'
  5. Germany adopts blockchain strategy and says no to Libra
  6. Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history
  7. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  8. These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us