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World

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Réfugiés : le monde se tait, l’Europe se mure

by Nadjib Touaibia and Vadim Kamenka

Our refugee crisis: the world turns away, and Europe walls itself up

Translated Tuesday 29 March 2016, by Philippa Griffin

In 2012, Europe received the Nobel Peace Prize. That was before. Before the influx of refugees bore witness to the disastrous consequences of two decades of Western intervention in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Before European states closed their borders in rapid succession, encouraged by Brussels. And throughout, the UN has been able only to observe its helplessness from afar.

The silence with which the international community has responded to the refugee crisis - the worst of its kind since World War Two – essentially proves a bankrupt political will. On 29th February, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, proclaimed a “global crisis” and “a test for us all”, yet without proposing a single alternative to the humanitarian catastrophe which is a direct result of the current political response. This lack of concerted response is particularly important since, on November 19th, the US Congress – dominated by Republicans – halted their plans to welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees, even those carefully selected by the UN, in the wake of the Paris attacks. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), over 131,000 people have already risked their lives crossing the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas in 2016. In the latest episode of this tragedy, 24,000 refugees are currently stagnating in atrocious conditions in Greece, over a third of whom are stationed at Idomeni, close to the Macedonian border. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has indicated that the two main camps here can accommodate only a quarter of this number of refugees. “These conditions of overcrowding have resulted in an acute lack of food supplies, shelter, water and sanitary provision. Tensions are escalating, feeding violence and playing directly into the hands of people-smugglers”, emphasises Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UNHCR.

The severity of this international-scale crisis is, unsurprisingly, exacerbated by the powerlessness of the UN. The scale of the disaster is comparable to war and to the environmental and economic crises which have devastated Africa, the Middle East and Asia for two decades, in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The “alarm” threshold has been reached, which could well lead to an “explosion” of the recently closed borders. Béligh Nabli, co-director of IRIS (the Intstitute of International and Strategic Relations) observes that «from now on, this phenomenon will play out in a context of growing insecurity and instability along the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean. The toxic combination of political disorder and armed conflicts feeds a constant stream of asylum seekers towards a space of stability and peace: namely, Europe.” This space of stability and peace has responded with an overt denial of solidarity, erecting walls, even if this means turning the Mediterranean coastline into a cemetery of abandoned or dead refugees. The economically liberal Europe where the “each for himself” mentality prevails is now in the midst of a strategic (or non-strategic!) cacophony, cobbling together a slapdash array of temporary solutions which are very quickly rendered redundant by the scale and severity of the tragedy. On the ground, the UNHCR witnesses the destructive impact of European states’ irresponsible attitudes on its humanitarian missions. Aggrieved, William Spindler, one of their spokespeople, reminds us that “Europe does not lack resources. What it lacks is political will.”

Since the summer of 2015, a certain number of European governments (in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia) decreed the re-establishment of border controls to block the arrival of refugees. In 2015, Germany, Hungary and Sweden shared the redistribution of 63% of the asylum seekers. The ultimate infringement of the right to asylum was made by the European Commission on 7th March. At an extraordinary summit with Turkey, the leaders of the 28 EU states voted to “close the Balkan route”. The leaders plan henceforth to convince Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to retain all future refugees on Turkish soil, seemingly ignoring the fact that his country is already providing shelter to nearly 3 million refugees...whilst France has agreed to accept a mere 30,000.

A summit so focussed upon one nation-state raises important questions. For Béligh Nabli, « if, from a geopolitical point of view, the refugee crisis assumes a global scale and thus necessitates a global summit, the crisis remains first and foremost a Euro-Mediterranean emergency, and has become such due to both deep-rooted structural issues and temporary defects in the EU.” Europe has certainly not shouldered the largest burden of refugees, who have been leaving Syria since 2011 where the civil war has killed over 270,000. Over 6 million Syrian citizens have fled their country, a large number of whom currently reside in Lebanon and Jordan. In these states, 209 and 90 respectively out of every 1,000 inhabitants are displaced persons.

No matter how much Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, emphasised on 3rd March that “our unilateral decisions (the closure of the borders) prove the existence of solidarity”, the EU has shown itself to be incapable of finding common solutions. What is more, it bolsters the illusion held by member states that they are “countries threatened with invasion”. The same solidarity-focussed Donald Tusk had the following message for refugees: “Do not come to Europe. Do not believe the people-smugglers. Do not waste your money. It will end in nothing!” Europe neither deserves the Nobel Prize, nor has demonstrated the behaviour that History will expect. By simply delivering an aid package of 700 million Euros, Europe feels that it has done its duty – box ticked, problem solved.


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