By Christos Mouzeviris
For the past few weeks we have witnessed an unprecedented humanitarian crisis overwhelming Europe.
Thousands of refugees are arriving wave upon wave on European shores in the Mediterranean. People fleeing from war torn regions, mainly from the Middle East, are trying to find shelter in rich European nations.
For these migrants, it is either flee or die. Their sheer numbers are challenging our continent’s ability to respond, plus it poses a hot topic for a debate.
The phenomenon is not new; in fact it has been increasingly worsening for the past few years. But while in the past it was mainly Italy, Spain, Malta and Greece that beared the bulk of refugee numbers, today we observe every single European nation being affected by it.
Just over the weekend, thousands of refugees were pushed back by police in FYROM, on the country’s borders with Greece. Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary are also finding themselves being overwhelmed by the sheer number of people entering their borders, with mixed responses.
But even countries away from Europe’s doorstep are being affected. The French port of Calais has become a hotspot in the continent’s migrant crisis, since thousands are arriving in the region trying to enter illegally in the UK.
Europe has been very slow to respond until now, simply because the problem affected predominantly the southern bordering states. In addition to this, the numbers of the refugees were lower plus many of them were falsely categorized as economic migrants from Africa.
Only recently EU members have agreed to share he load of refugees that were entering Europe via Greece and Italy, after many failed attempts to reach to an agreement. In mid-August the process started, yet the negotiations exposed the cracks in European “unity”.
The EU has proposed a quota system, backed by southern nations, which would see other EU nations commit to resettle a certain number of refugees who arrive in Mediterranean countries.
The plan, however, has met with resistance from some countries, including the UK and Germany. They have resisted the idea of mandatory quotas, arguing that refugees should not be sent to countries in which they may not want to live.
As negotiations took place in early July, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi lashed out at fellow EU leaders for rejecting the quotas, and accused his peers of looking after only their own interests.
“If that’s your idea of Europe, you can keep it,” Renzi told his counterparts. “Either give us solidarity or don’t waste our time,” according to Australia’s ABC News.
This reaffirms the weakness of Europe, which is placing national interests above the urgency in finding a solution on a European level. There has been a cacophony of responses to a problem that affects everyone in Europe; rich nations and poor, EU members or not, transition states or destination ones.
The Hungarian government decided to build a wall on its borders with Serbia to prevent refugees “pouring in”. Slovakia announced that it won’t accept non-Christian refugees, as “it has no mosques”.
Other countries like Bulgaria and Hungary opted our from the EU’s refugee distribution plan, while the UK is still reluctant to decisively cooperate fully with the rest of the continent on the issue.
It is evident that Europe should have formed a joined policy for such humanitarian crises, since the phenomenon is not new. Ever since the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or later the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIL or even the war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Europe should have been prepared; but it is not.
It is understandable that our continent is yet to recover by the economic crisis, plus many states are seeing a rise of Far Right and nationalist parties as result. A situation that naturally creates difficulties when dealing with issues such immigration.
But that is why sharing the responsibility, either it is financial or humanitarian one, must become a norm among European states. Since the situation is too much for one country to handle and since we are all affected by the crisis, then it deeper cooperation would seem sensible, if not inevitable.
What we have instead is European governments trying to deal with the issue as economic migration; which is not. Besides even if it was, the response should have also been a unanimous one. By establishing EU job centers in the countries of origins of the migrants, Europe should encourage legal migration and discouraging illegal one.
Potential migrants would be assessed in these centers and be given visas to work legally in the EU, in the state that required their skills and needed workers for a agreed amount of time. Since our continent is one of the richest regions of the world, it inevitably attracts migrants from less affluent regions.
Yet the recent arrivals are not in their majority economic migrants. They are fleeing war torn regions, or brutal regimes like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in a desperate effort to save their lives.
It is inevitable that Europe will be affected one way or the other for many years to come.
The longer we prolong our response, the worse the situation will become. And we must help these people for many reasons.
Firstly Europe prides itself of being a beacon of stability, prosperity, peace and foreign aid. Secondly because in past times, it was Europeans who were fleeing their countries after the devastating World Wars.
And lastly, we must not forget that our leaders decided to side with USA in toppling leaders in the Middle East, changing the status-quo and tilting the balance of power. The result of our decision to meddle in the region’s affairs, was the creation of radical Islamist groups that were successful in establishing themselves in the area.
The threat of ISIL reaching its goal and becoming a major power in the region is very real. The result will mean that the phenomenon of migration into Europe won’t stop any time soon. This group is committing an ethnic cleansing it is effort to gain more land and power from other nations in the region.
If Europe wants to deal with the issue it has only two options; either agree on how to deal with the refugees and cooperate as a continent, or engage fully in a war against ISIL and try to destroy them. Something that the radical Islamist group seems to desperately want to achieve and Europe tries to avoid.
As long as there is no peace in Middle East, the numbers of the refugees will keep growing and coming. Europe must decide how to deal with the issue, or with ISIL. It can not hide its head in the sand and hoping that the problem will just go away.
A war hides many dangers, as Europe risks to look like a colonial power again and create a rift with all Muslim countries, permanently damaging its image and relations with these nations. Unless of course it decides to cooperate with other Islamic nations that are also fighting ISIL and were until now black-listed by Europe; like Iran and the Assad regime in Syria.
Since there is little will to engage in a war as a continent with the radical Islamists, then the other solution is to try and deal with the refugee crisis. All European nations must cooperate and form a united response to the problem.
Set up refugee welcome camps all over Europe, while sharing their number and the financial responsibility to accommodate them. Agree on the creation of a policy that will ensure either their integration in our countries, or gradual repatriation once the threat is over in theirs. Our continent must prepare for the future.
It is not necessary that they will stay in Europe for good, at least not all of them. Yet we do have the moral obligation to be part of the solution.
We have far more resources than nations like Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, which have been dealing with the problem for far longer than us. We should also try to reach into agreements for help and cooperation with other rich regions of the world, engaging them and ensuring a global response to the crisis.
The problem is real and growing. Europe has the responsibility to act, both towards its own citizens and the refugees. If the situation continues without being properly dealt, it poses a major security threat for all European nations and a potential cause for social arrest and instability. It has simply passed the decision time and it needs urgently action.