Migration and Refugees: The Role and Responsibility of the EU

wind, flag, no person

In the past few years, the number of refugees arriving in Europe has increased exponentially leading to a migrant crisis. Most refugees flee their country because of armed conflict or political persecution in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq. According to the UnitedNations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 60 million individuals are currently in migration, but only5 million aim to enter Europe since the large majority of refugees stay within their continent. This article will focus on the solutions that exist regarding the reception of refugees and their integration in the EU.

Every day, hundreds of desperate people risk their lives to find safety, but only a handful of them reach their destination. The large majority of migrants come to Europe by the sea in highly dangerous travelling conditions. They spend all of their savings to board small and fragile dinghies to cross the Mediterranean Sea, facing deadly experiences. More than 20,000people have tragically lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean (IOM, 2020), and a huge proportion are victims of torture or sexual abuse during the journey. Even more concerning is the fact that whilst the number of refugees arriving in Europe is declining, the rate of deaths keeps increasing. In 2018, one migrant out of eighteen went missing or died in an attempt to reach Europe.

As stated by Melissa Fleming, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the UNHCR, “The simple truth is that refugees would not risk their lives on a journey so dangerous if they could thrive where they are”. What we must understand and take into consideration is that refugees are forced to leave their country; thus, they are the ones who truly suffer from migration. As European citizens, we must take this problem very seriously and welcome these people who have been through war, death, disease, starvation and poverty. We do not deserve peacefulness and freedom more than they do—we were simply born in the right place, at the right time.

There are multiple challenges associated with the large influx of migrants in the EuropeanUnion. Because each nation has its own position on the subject, it is hard to harmonize policies and implement a solution that would reach a consensus. A main point of tension is due to the differences in the spatial distribution of the refugees. The resettlement of refugees is a debatable subject and divides the EU as some countries, such as Greece or Italy, have to deal with a disproportionate number of arrivals compared to others. One of the outcomes of such a situation is the rise of populism in many European countries. By spreading xenophobic discourses and picturing refugees as the cause of economic and social issues faced by occidental nations, far-right movements keep increasing their visibility and audience. As a figure representing worldwide economic power, the 27 European countries of the EU should be able to devise appropriate policies to welcome 5 million people and integrate them among the existing 551 million inhabitants.

Last year, the sociologist and politician Jean Ziegler published a book called ‘The Shame of Europe’, after visiting one of the biggest refugee camps on the Greek island, Lesbos. When trying to reach Europe, many refugees are brought to this island by force and kept in this open-air prison for months. This system has been created by the EU to keep refugees outside other European countries and prevent them from continuing their journey. However, in principle, anyone who is persecuted in his country of origin has the right to cross a border and apply for asylum. The retention of more than 22,000 individuals in Lesbos camp violates this fundamental human right and goes against the Rome Treaty signed by all European countries in 1957. The European Union was founded on the values of respect for dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and human rights; withholding thousands of refugees n order to stop them from locating a safe place is therefore not only immoral but illegal.

Not only is this situation criminal, but it is also inhuman considering the terrible living conditions in the environment. In his book, Ziegler explains that the Lesbos camp is completely saturated since it was originally created to welcome no more than 3,000 people. Only one toilet and one shower are put to use for one hundred people fostering the spread of diseases such as scabies, and each refugee lives with a vital space of six square meters. Moreover, the food provided is insufficient and additionally repugnant, often expired and almost inedible. These deplorable living conditions have led dozens of children to commit suicide and yet the EU continues to finance this camp.

The objective of this ‘terror strategy’ is to dissuade other potential refugees attempting to find refuge in Europe. European decision-makers devised this unsanitary camp in hopes that word would spread and thus discourage others. However, it seems that politicians have neglected the fact that refugees come to Europe because they do not have any other option; they are set to risk their lives fleeing their home countries because their living conditions have become unbearable. Therefore, this dissuasion policy is inefficient and exclusively damaging in effect, making these people’s lives even harder.

The UNHCR along with many NGOs and authors ask politicians to react and find solutions to this major crisis. To begin with, greater solidarity among EU countries is necessary to find efficient and adequate responses. The project of a relocation plan consisting of the resettling of refugees according to the GDP and the population capacity of each European country has to be discussed further and implemented quickly. All countries must accept to welcome a fair and proportionate number of asylum claimants. During a press conference, the PrimeMinister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, affirmed that  “Poland opposes the mandatory quota system for immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East”. Ziegler believes that Poland and the seven other former Soviet countries which refused to sign the relocation system should be sanctioned by the EU for their non-cooperation.

Another common recommendation is the better management of the European budget. For instance, more than five billion dollars were given to Turkey to support refugees, but a huge part of this sum was utilised by Erdogan’s government to build a wall between his country and Syria. Furthermore, the Lesbos camp organisation, as well as the police and guard dogs used to repel migrants are entirely financed by taxes, and thus by European citizens themselves. This raises another solution, consisting of using our right to vote. No European should feel powerless in front of this situation as they live in a democracy. They must understand that their voice matters and that they have the influence to make political change in their country and the EU. Furthermore, the EU must invest in the creation of safe pathways for refugees in order to provide alternatives to currently dangerous practices. Elaborated systems should be implemented between European states to reunify families and prioritise the needs of unaccompanied children.

On a smaller scale, French village Pessat-Villeneuve demonstrated the benefits of solidarity by welcoming sixty refugees from Chad and Niger in 2015. They provided them with access to education, health care, and professional formation, thus providing the refugees with the ability to become progressively more integrated among the population. This case proves that we have the capacity to help and support refugees if we adhere to the values of equality and brotherhood.

The refugee crisis affects an incredibly large part of the world and undeniably results in many uncertainties for the host countries. Even though welcoming refugees presents both economic and social challenges, fundamental human rights should be placed above everything else. We cannot turn a blind eye to this emergency anymore and must find a clear plan to accept these people who have already been through unimaginable tragedies and traumas. People are in need of protection and welcoming them seems manageable considering the political stability, resources and wealth of the countries within the EuropeUnion.

The migrant crisis has to be treated very seriously and solutions must be found quickly, as the global population, as well as the number of refugees, will be unprecedented in a few years. Nowadays the main driver of migration is war, but tomorrow it will most likely be climate change. The UN estimates that, in 2050, 500 million people will have to leave their country as a result of environmental disasters. Thus, we are only at the outset of an unavoidable worldwide issue.

Author: Luna Vital-Durand

Editor: Chloe Lee