North Africa, West Asia

Europe: time to face up

Sharing responsibility for the refugee crisis is a first step, but it remains unclear if EU members will work towards resolving its root cause.

Cristina Casabón
7 September 2015

Björn Kietzmann/Demotix. All rights reserved.

With the refugee crisis, criticism of Europe's approach to dealing with asylum seekers and refugees has mounted. In the absence of a unified solution, some EU governments are adopting individual solutions while others have refused to take in refugees and resisted common proposals. Under the new Commission plan, states are expected to divide more than 120,000 refugees who are already in the EU.

The last proposal by the European Commission will relieve pressure from the countries with the most arrivals and distribute responsibility among all EU members. This comes after the failure of the last plan in May. The proposal was a refugee quota system, plans over the coming two years for the resettlement of 20,000 refugees from crisis-stricken regions, and the relocation of 40,000 asylum-seekers from Greece, Italy and Malta.

Considering the seriousness of the refugee crisis, it is clear that resettling 20,000 refugees to the EU over the next two years was “a drop in the ocean”, however many EU governments resisted the proposals and could not agree on a fair distribution. The problem, as Anna Terrón recently said is that so far, “the European response to the international obligation of protection and asylum is rerouted to the national sphere and limited to a single default country.”

As the author pointed out, “to create a genuine European area of protection and refuge with a common governance system” is a common challenge. Potential host nation's circumstances are different—in terms of politics, economic strength, demographics, unemployment, etc—but a fair balance must be made by adjusting the numbers of accepted applications to the characteristics of each country. The new numbers proposed by the European Commission raise the percentage of refugees to the largest EU members, such as France, Germany or Spain.

Until now, we have seen varying responses from EU members. A negative response came from Britain—which has a long-standing exemption from EU rules on border issues—rejecting any involvement in the quota scheme and saying it would encourage “dangerous journeys” across the Mediterranean.

Hungary, which is building a fence along its border with Serbia to prevent migrants from entering, appeared to trick hundreds of people into taking a train to a refugee camp outside Budapest last week.

Other EU members have changed their attitude to the better. Eastern countries, such as Poland, have showed willingness to accept more refugees than the first quota proposed by the European Commission in May.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have offered to open a rail corridor for Syrians who are en route to Germany, but it remains unclear whether they will accept the quotas. 

Germany and Austria have, however, showed concern for the refugees. Germany suspended the Dublin Regulation, which allows people to stay and apply for asylum, and after a long and difficult journey receive a warm welcome. Moreover, Germany expects the number of asylum seekers to quadruple to about 800,000 in 2015.

Sweden, a relatively small nation, is another “welcoming house” for refugees: it comes second in accepted applications according to The Economist data, and is at the top of the list in proportion to population (taking 317.8 per 100,000).

It seems that the old Europe is overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, with disastrous consequences for millions of refugees. EU’s inactivity in the Syrian humanitarian crisis is one of the causes behind the current crisis, and now it is time to act.

Sharing responsibility for the refugee crisis is the first step. However, it remains unclear if EU members will work towards resolving the root cause of this crisis, namely the ongoing war of Bashar against his own people in Syria.

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