The refugee crisis continues to dominate the news across Europe and the world. After an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers who gathered to discuss, yet again, the EU’s response to the crisis, there can be only one headline: “Get your act together!”
The urgent meeting in Brussels was supposed to come up with solutions for how to deal with the crisis. But, far from addressing the scale and urgency of the emergency, EU Member States instead have backed further away from taking their responsibilities and role seriously.
The outcomes are extremely disappointing on several fronts.
First, the decision to relocate 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece throughout the EU represents little more than a reaffirmation of an agreement already made in July. So that is hardly deserving of applause.
But that Ministers only managed to agree “in principle” to relocate a further 120,000 – as proposed by the European Commission earlier this month – provided the scheme is voluntary and ‘flexible’ is simply shocking. All because a small number of EU Member States are refusing to accept any asylum-seekers in clear violation of the spirit of burden-sharing and international law. And, owing to the difficulty of the discussions, Ministers deferred a formal decision on this until October. Hardly a swift or comprehensive response to an emergency affecting the lives of hundreds and thousands of children and their families.
To put this in perspective, let’s look at the numbers on the table: there are over 4 million Syrians who have fled the civil war in their country, three-quarters of whom are now in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. But the EU is unable to reach agreement on resettling a tiny fraction of that number. So much for ‘solidarity’.
Secondly, this represents yet another step towards the increasing securitisation of the EU. Under the leadership of EU High Representative Federica Mogherini we have witnessed more and more emphasis on security policy. The current response to the refugee crisis would seem to be entirely in line with the creation of Fortress Europe in which our ‘security’ is of far greater importance than saving people’s lives or treating people in a humane manner.
The agreement to set up a list of “Safe Countries of Origin” and increase reception capacities in the affected regions appears to have one clear purpose: to push the problem back downstream and ensure that EU Member States are able to find inadmissible more asylum applications filed from these countries.
EU countries, which have the combined capacity to make a significant contribution to responding to this crisis, are instead intent on passing the responsibility to third countries
EU countries, which have the combined capacity to make a significant contribution to responding to this crisis, are instead intent on passing the responsibility to third countries.
What’s more, this does nothing to either solve the problem today or tackle the root causes in the long term. Agreeing to direct their energy and resources towards setting up camps for refugees and their families “until return to their country of origin is possible” seems to wilfully ignore the fact that conflict and insecurity are likely to rage for years. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the average length of conflict-induced displacement is 17 years. EU Member States are therefore agreeing to condemn millions of children to a lost childhood.
Finally, the outcomes of the latest round of EU talks on the unfolding emergency demonstrate a blatant disregard for the urgency of the problem. While Member States are arguing behind closed doors in Brussels, children and their families are suffering. They are being denied the rights and protection they are entitled to under international law.
The longer EU leaders fail to act with the responsibility and solidarity that the situation demands, the worse the crisis will become. EU states must urgently come together and agree a comprehensive response that increases humanitarian assistance to refugee children and their families in transit and host countries, identifies additional and sufficient funds for this response, respecting the fundamental rights of refugees as set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, 1967 Protocol and the Convention on the Rights of Child.