Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Stakeholder

Transforming the EU's response to forced displacement

  • A fundamental rethink of the EU's humanitarian, development and political action is needed (Photo: IRC)

In 2018, a record 70 million people were forced from their homes through a combination of conflict, climate change and extreme poverty.

As the world's leading humanitarian donor, respected diplomatic power and home to millions of refugees and asylum-seekers, the EU is uniquely placed to provide a truly game-changing and rules-based response to both the causes and consequences of protracted crises.

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But to achieve this potential, a fundamental rethink of the EU's humanitarian, development and political action is needed.

At this time of political transition, the new European Parliament and incoming European Commission should seize the opportunity to make this happen.

The International Rescue Committee's evidence, gathered from our work in some of the most fragile and difficult contexts around the world shows that currently, EU asylum, migration, development and humanitarian policies are pulling in different directions: better alignment is needed in order to provide effective solutions to the reality of protracted crises.

In order for the EU to unlock these opportunities, in this time of political transitions we call the new European leadership to take action and stand for a Europe that truly protects.

A Europe that protects and empowers

Despite longstanding commitments to policy coherence for development, alignment between the EU's external policies still remains insufficient, while commitments to build long term outcomes for crisis-affected populations are often de-prioritised in favour of politically motivated-security concerns.

As a first step to change this, the EU should adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the guiding principle to drive collective outcomes across the full range of the EU's external action, with a first vice president fully empowered to drive effective and coordinated implementation.

All policies should be advancing the attainment of the SDGs for conflict and crisis affected people, and their outcomes should be aligned to national SDG implementation plans and integrated into the European semester process.

The next EU migration agenda, the multi-annual financial framework and the revision of the EU trust fund for Africa provide an opportunity for the EU to re-assess its priorities and to shape comprehensive asylum and migration policies that truly protect people on the move, while fostering resilience in countries of origin, transit and destination.

EU-funded programmes implemented by humanitarian organisations have a critical role to play in delivering progress towards SDG targets in fragile states.

But while the average crisis lasts ten years or more, the majority of humanitarian funding is provided in short term tranches - unless more multi-year funding is made available, we will not be meeting the realities of ongoing humanitarian crises.

A Europe that protects and welcomes

People always have and always will move across borders - pushed out by violence, persecution and conflict or attracted elsewhere by work, study or family ties.

With the right systems in place, migration can be managed in a way that brings benefits for both new arrivals and local communities. The void currently left by the lack of agreement around the reform of the common European asylum system is in no one's interest.

With displacement remaining at a record high, global resettlement numbers continuing to fall and new arrivals in the EU down to pre-2014 levels, EU leaders should urgently revive negotiations to agree a fair, humane and predictable responsibility sharing system, reinstate a dedicated search and rescue function and open up safe and legal routes to protection.

The EU should send a strong signal of international solidarity with refugee hosting countries by urgently adopting a protection-focused Union resettlement framework resettling at least 250,000 refugees by 2025, and making a collective pledge to this effect at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019.

Within the EU's borders, the European Commission should demonstrate principled leadership and act as an integration leader in EU law and policy making.

As a first step, this must involve the evaluation and renewal of the 2016 action plan for the integration of third country nationals.

EU funding remains the primary way for the EU to influence decision-making and policy at the national level, and it is therefore important that funding for inclusion caters to the needs and strengths of refugees and asylum-seekers.

A Europe that protects and leads

International rule-making and the practice of international institutions are currently experiencing an assault that should be understood as a political emergency, both domestically and abroad.

By delivering bold, ambitious and value-based diplomatic action that protects civilians caught up in conflict situations, the EU can play a major role in addressing this crisis.

Moreover, as the world's leading humanitarian aid donor, the EU has the potential to act as a global champion of the rules based system and make a real difference for the women, men and children displaced by conflict and disaster.

The EU should continue to support states hosting people fleeing conflicts - such as Jordan, Lebanon and Bangladesh - to provide a safe haven for refugees for as long as needed.

Failure to effectively support refugees' protection and self-reliance in host countries risks creating additional push factors for refugees to return to places where their lives and safety would be at risk, thus undermining the voluntary nature of returns and further eroding durable solutions to protracted crises.

Only through joining up external policies to ensure no one is left behind, establishing a fair, humane and predictable asylum system, and recognising that humanitarian emergencies are a political emergency, can the EU champion the humanitarian response globally and stand for its core values of protecting lives.

Author bio

Imogen Sudbery is director of policy and advocacy for Europe at the International Rescue Committee.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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