Friday

16th Nov 2018

Opinion

If not Europe, who will help the refugees?

  • With no end in sight, there are signs that Europe’s heart is hardening (Photo: iom.int)

If Europe fails to marshal an effective response to the refugee crisis, the damage to Europe and international refugee protection will be irreparable.

In 1945, there were more than 11 million refugees and displaced people in Europe and the continent’s infrastructure was in ruins. When it comes to forced migration in Europe, the challenges of the past dwarf those of the present.

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

But no reasonable person can deny that today’s refugee crisis is a huge political challenge for the EU and its member states. Almost 800,000 asylum seekers and migrants reached Europe by sea this year, more than 200,000 in October alone.

With no end in sight, there are signs that Europe’s heart is hardening.

Sweden, among the most generous EU states in responding to the crisis, has asked for help from other EU governments, saying it cannot accept further asylum seekers. Some in Germany’s ruling coalition are making similar arguments.

In theory, most EU governments recognise that an effective response requires collective action. But despite two more summits this week - Valletta, with African leaders, and an EU summit afterward - European governments have too often acted in their own narrow, short-term political interests even if it undermines the common effort, and exacerbates the crisis.

Our research has documented the human consequences of the failure of EU governments to marshal an effective response: people trapped at borders in freezing cold and mud in the Western Balkans; people shivering on beaches in Greece; people drowning in the Aegean Sea.

Not unmanageable

The numbers are not unmanageable.

But the failure to manage the situation, and the localised points of crisis, amplified by politicians’ fearmongering and media sensationalism, risks scaring European voters into demanding tough responses to deal with the chaos, even if those responses are ineffective and deepen the unfolding humanitarian disaster.

If EU governments don’t get a firm grip on things soon, the siren calls of those who advocate an Australia-style approach will grow.

That’s the seductive but dangerous idea that if only “we” could keep “them” away from our shores and process them somewhere else, then “someone else” could offer protection to those who need it and we’d get off the hook.

It ignores the fact that most countries to which asylum seekers would be diverted lack the capacity to fairly process or humanely host them - and the horrific abuses the Australian system has actually produced.

Outsourcing asylum has long been a dream for some European policy makers and the current push in that direction is already visible in the first draft of the EU-Turkey Action Plan, which talked of Turkey preventing refugees from reaching Europe.

It’s also visible in preparations for the Valletta summit, which some EU governments hope will persuade African countries to take on greater responsibility for border control and readmission.

The EU’s main approach is to see that fewer people arrive, and that those who do will be easier to deport.

Elements

Elements of what would constitute a more effective response from EU governments are clear:

Better coordination of emergency assistance.

Assistance with asylum pre-screening for countries at the front line.

An effective common asylum system.

A permanent system to relocate asylum seekers and equitably share responsibility across EU states.

Safe and legal routes to reach Europe.

Measures to integrate refugees into society.

Intensified diplomatic efforts to end the conflicts and human rights abuses that drive much of the current flows.

Not easy

No one should pretend this will be easy.

Relocation will likely mean that some refugees will have to live in European countries that are not their first preference or where they are not welcome.

Coordination requires setting aside narrow national interests, pooling sovereignty, and working collectively. Creating a common asylum system will take the stick of legal action against recalcitrant governments as well as the carrots of aid and technical assistance.

Effective diplomatic action to improve human rights means not setting aside human rights concerns for the sake of short-term migration control expediency, as Brussels seems willing to do with Ankara.

But the alternative would make a mockery of the ideal of a European Union, which is founded on respect for human rights, by denying protection to those who need it.

It also risks undermining the UN’s Refugee Convention itself.

Why should countries in the global south, who already host the majority of the world’s refugees, keep their borders open, when the world’s richest trading bloc does not?

Benjamin Ward is deputy director, Europe and Central Asia division, at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO

Merkel's party displays unity on refugees

Ahead of Thursday's difficult talks with her coalition partner on transit zones, Angela Merkel's own party union displays unity on the refugee crisis.

Analysis

Orban 'vindicated' by EU refugee crisis

Hungary's Viktor Orban feels vindicated by a shift to the right in EU migration politics, but more populism and razor-wire fences could pose "a challenge" for the Union.

US steps in to clean up Cyprus

Cyprus has overlooked undertakings on bank probity made to the EU in the context of the 2013 bailout - but it might prove harder to get the US off its back.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  2. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  3. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  4. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  5. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  6. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  7. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May
  8. Denmark blocks Tanzania aid over homophobic crackdown

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  2. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  3. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  4. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  5. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  6. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  7. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot
  8. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us