Europe must step up for migrants
2017-09-15 05:35:00 -

It’s time for all EU countries to show responsibility and solidarity towards the millions of migrants fleeing persecution and thousands drowning at sea, writes Michael McGowan.


The European Court of Justice this month ruled against Hungary and Slovakia’s appeal of the EU decision to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy, stating that the scheme “actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate”.


It comes after the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated that 3,771 migrants died while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015. 


The EU proposal was to relocate migrants from long overburdened reception centres on the Mediterranean by September 2017. Last June, the European Commission announced infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for non-compliance with their obligations under the relocation decisions. Neither Hungary nor Poland has so far received any relocated refugees, while the Czech Republic has not done so since August 2016.


According to UNHCR data, around 50,000 asylum seekers are still stuck in Greece. Italy had a record number of arrivals in 2016, with 181,436 migrants and asylum seekers reaching its shores. So far this year, almost 100,000 have arrived in the country from Libya.


In a public exchange with the president of the European Commission, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Jean-Claude Junker’s interpretation of EU solidarity in response to the 2015 migration crisis would transform Hungary into “an immigrant country, against the will of Hungarian citizens”. In addition, he said he was “stunned and puzzled” that the commission wasn’t willing to pay half the cost of a border fence constructed to keep migrants out of the country.


Despite his and other leaders’ protests, however, the court’s decision has been broadly welcomed.


German Green MEP Ska Keller said: “Now that the ECJ has dismissed the actions of Hungary and Slovakia against the redistribution of refugees, there is no excuse. Finally, those member states which have so far boycotted redistribution must also deliver. 


“Solidarity in the EU is not a one-way street. Government leaders such as Viktor Orban cannot demand more money for border protection, while blocking the reception of refugees from Greece and Italy.”


Keller added: “This ruling is a milestone for the EU. The ECJ confirmed that solidarity is a key principle of the common asylum policy. All member states must now live up to their obligations.


“Most countries are still lagging far behind and the European Commission should follow-up with the infringement proceedings initiated against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland for not doing their part.”


Claude Moraes, the British Labour MEP and chair of the parliament’s civil liberties committee, has said the ECJ verdict shows that member states cannot dodge their responsibilities. 


”The parliament has consistently called on member states to quickly uphold their commitments, since the adoption of the relocation mechanism in 2015. Yet two years later, only 28,000 people out of the 160,000 have been relocated.”


Moraes added: “The fact that collectively member states have relocated less than a quarter of the modest figure of 160,000 people from Italy and Greece draws attention to significant gaps in the EU’s response to the biggest refugee crisis on the continent since World War II.”


In fact, the European Parliament has long advocated a comprehensive refugee and asylum system for the EU, but this has been ignored – with tragic consequences for millions of migrants fleeing persecution.


There are about 60 million refugees in the world, more than 85 percent of them in developing countries, which makes the response to the number of migrants arriving in Europe appear pretty small.


The crisis facing Europe is not a crisis of numbers. It is a crisis of solidarity, and the failure of EU countries to deliver on their official commitment to the principles and values of human rights.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

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