Sunday

18th Nov 2018

Opinion

What Central Europeans want to know on the refugee crisis

  • Lack of clarity, not xenophobia, is behind resistance to quotas (Photo: European Commission)

With its decision, in early September, not to return Syrian nationals to EU transit countries, Germany unilaterally suspended the bloc’s Dublin rules, creating a pull effect for migrants.

Tens of thousands of people are now trying to cross EU borders, determined to reach Germany and apply for asylum there.

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Last week, the European Commission also presented a new legislative package to address the crisis.

At its core is a temporary relocation mechanism (for 120,000 migrants, in addition to the 40,000 previously proposed) as well as a proposal for a permanent relocation mechanism, to be triggered if a country is experiencing a “large and disproportionate inflow of third-country nationals”.

Germany and the Commission’s approach have had an impact on public opinion in western Europe, creating the impression that if EU states show solidarity, the problem will be solved.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true.

The resistance which the Commission quotas face in Central and Eastern Europe is not caused by lack of solidarity, nor, for the most part, by xenophobic sentiment.

It’s the magnitude of the refugee numbers - more than 1 million are expected to come to the EU this year - which prompts the misgivings.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn has estimated there are up to 20 million refugees in our part of the world who would welcome the opportunity to seek protection in Europe.

The population of Africa is forecast to double by 2050 and the wars in Africa and the Middle East look unlikely to go away.

All signs indicate that millions will keep coming, making the Commission proposal for 160,000 people look out of touch.

The quota proposal contains no ideas on how to control asylum seeker arrivals. Like Germany, it will send out the message that more people are welcome and prompt more people to make the journey to Europe.

Don’t get us central Europeans wrong: We’re ready to shelter people in need of protection, as we did during the 1990s Balkan wars.

But taking in ever-greater numbers of displaced people won’t solve the problems in the Middle East.

We should instead help improve conditions in the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

There’s a need for huge financial investment, deployment of other resources, and, indeed, EU resettlement programmes. But as part of a coherent, long-term strategy, not as a knee-jerk reaction to individual tragedies.

People in Central and Eastern Europe want answers, from Germany, from EU institutions, and from our own governments, to important questions.

How will Germany regain control of the chaotic situation, in which tens of thousands of people breach EU borders to reach their preferred asylum destination, in violation of EU laws?

What will we do if the hundreds of thousands turn to millions and our reception capacities break down?

Are we creating a system of ever-increasing EU relocation quotas, with proposed figures becoming out-of-date before they even enter into force?

What is the mid- and long-term plan?

How do we ensure that relocated people who don’t want to stay in Central and Eastern Europe don’t just go to Germany or Sweden?

How do we maintain Schengen-area travel freedoms while keeping those people in place?

There are other questions too.

Do Germany and the EU Commission understand that people in Africa and the Middle East have access to social media, and that their message, of open doors, and of generous state support, will motivate many more to come?

Given Europe’s old shortcomings on integrating Muslim communities, and the new problem of radicalisation, do we really believe that the integration of hundreds of thousands of people from conflict zones will be any more successful?

There is no other way to face these challenges than through a common EU asylum system, common protection of EU borders, and a common re-admission policy.

But without credible answers to these questions and efficient measures to regain control over EU immigration, the crisis threatens to begin a slow, and painful, disintegration of what we’ve built.

Radko Hokovský is executive director of the European Values think tank in Prague

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