Opinion - Europe’s great refugee shame
2015-09-01 17:34:00 -

By Michael McGowan, a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

I have long argued here that Europe must act in unity in addressing what has become the most serious migration crisis seen in Europe since 1945. Germany expects about 800,000 asylum seekers and refugees to arrive this year, twice the previous estimate; so far it has already received 218,221 asylum applications. And now Angela Merkel has spelt out in the bluntest of terms that the time is long overdue for the whole of the EU to work together and take responsibility for this horrific humanitarian disaster.

The latest data on refugee flows from the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans shows the scale and urgency of the crisis, as this year alone 240,000 men, women and children have risked the formidable dangers of crossing the Mediterranean, where already more than 2,000 lives have been lost.


Peter Sutherland, the UN special envoy on migration, has criticised the EU for its shortcomings and “less than satisfactory” response to the migrant crisis, while commending a number of countries, including Germany, Sweden and Ireland, for their response.


The number of people seeking asylum in Germany is set to exceed 800,000 this year, which is 40 per cent of all EU applicants. The UN has warned that Germany and Sweden are unfairly bearing the brunt of Europe’s refugee burden. This swift increase for Germany – already in 2015 more than double the numbers received last year – has taken Europe’s largest economy by surprise and left many towns and cities struggling to feed and house refugees. This July, more arrived in Germany than in the whole of last year.


And in less wealthy eastern European EU member states, tens of thousands of migrants are following illegal routes through parts of the Balkans. Greece, with its economic problems, gets little sympathy from the rest of the EU, and Italy is largely ignored as far as any practical or moral assistance. The EU refused to support Italy’s admirable Mare Nostrum refugee rescue plan last year, and there has been poor support for its underfunded successor run by the EU’s Frontex agency.


European solution

The deaths of thousands of people trying to cross the Mediterranean requires a European solution, and it is to Europe’s shame that this is not being addressed. Global instability, war and mass displacement of populations in the Middle East and Africa have to be dealt with on a European scale as the number of migrants fleeing desperate situations detected on the EU’s borders in July trebled to 107,500, compared with a year earlier.


The scale of the crisis means the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which required refugees to claim asylum in the first country, must be revisited as part of a new European strategy, as will Ireland’s commitment to take 520 refugees this year and an additional 600 over the next two years.


Ireland understands why people leave their home countries to escape famine, poverty and exploitation, and Irish communities across the world, through Irish literature, music, diplomacy and peacemaking, have had an influential role in international co-operation. And this besides being blessed with a President in Michael D Higgins whose reputation as an internationalist is second to none.


The world is being torn by conflict, persecution and poverty, and the response to Europe’s biggest migration crisis since WW11 is a disgrace. Those who are trying to escape from these horrors are being demonised and described as ‘swarms’ coming across the Mediterranean and ‘breaking into’ our countries. And the response to this major humanitarian crisis has been higher walls, security guards, barbed wire and snarling dogs.


It is high time for EU member states to abandon their current blinkered, narrow-minded approach to the international migration crisis and to back new proposals by the EU for a centrally directed policy, and for fair and proportionate burden-sharing in terms of numbers of refugees accepted by each country. It is time for Europe to rise above petty nationalistic concerns and prejudices, and Ireland can help to lead the way.

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