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Europe’s Chance to Bring Order to the Refugee Crises

December 2, 2016

Refugees arriving on the shores of Greece

 

“There can be no tolerance for those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due,” stated Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, as she stood firmly by her decision of letting Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi refugees in the country. Whether they are called asylum seekers, refugees or immigrants, the most important thing to note is that their treacherous journey across the Mediterranean is made out of the necessity to survive. Merkel was at the forefront of formulating policy responses to the refugee crises, but the lack of support from her European counterparts worsened the situation, making the task unbearable for Merkel to handle alone. Europe's lack of cooperation is the main reason for the failure of effectively tackling the refugee crisis. However, it is not too late to fix the mess that has been made by dismantling the Dublin Regulation system as well as providing economic opportunities for refugees to become productive citizens.

 

Under the European Union (EU) rule known as the Dublin Regulation, “refugees are required to claim asylum in the member states in which they first arrive.” Moreover, under this system, states are accountable for the immigrants that land on their territory. This essentially puts the burden on Mediterranean and Southern European countries like Greece and Italy that receive numerous immigrants arriving on its shores by boat from the turbulent Middle East. Under the Dublin Regulation, other EU members without massive refugee influxes of their own did not feel obligated to help and were not legally required to do so. As a result, the absence of collective action to alleviate the crisis left a tremendous burden on the states that were experiencing waves of refugees crossing into their borders and the few countries like Germany who were willing to cooperate. While Germany took in more than 1.1 milion asylum seekers  in 2015, France and the UK only took in between 2,000 - 5,000 migrants each. The failure of many EU countries to contribute to the refugee resettlement efforts played a major role in explaining why the crisis was handled poorly.

 

Getting rid of the Dublin Regulation would no longer hold the few states through which refugees are entering Europe as the only ones responsible in times of crisis. Instead, it would allow EU members to cooperate and devise a fair system where all states are held accountable. Europe would do well to establish a quota system for refugee resettlement, where nations would accept different numbers of refugees depending on how much each country can contribute through financial support or other resources, such as basic necessities for the refugees. This way, each EU member will play their part in helping address the migrant crisis. More importantly, this system will create a sense of collective responsibility, where European states can focus more on using their money to help provide shelter, food, water and even education for the refugees rather than building fences or spending more on security to keep the refugees out. This plan will call for the resettlement of refugees from the states in which they enter, like Italy and Greece, to states like France and the U.K, that have received very few thus far despite their greater capacity to accommodate refugees in large quantities. An important fact that European states need to acknowledge is that the arrival of refugees is inevitable regardless of the policies nations implement to try and keep them out, since the instability, violence and other push factors motivating refugees to flee their home countries cannot be resolved directly or immediately through European policy changes. Therefore, the best and perhaps only solution is for the nations of Europe to work together to effectively handle the refugee influx rather than continuing their present efforts to dodge responsibility and downplay the need to address the crisis.

 

In addition to cooperation on resettlement, EU states must also focus on providing opportunities for the refugees to become productive members of society. In his lecture Fixing the Broken Refugee System, professor James Hathaway emphasized how migrants want to be independent and provide for their families. A powerful example is how the Ugandan government allowed Somali refugees to be able to work and move freely in the state, empowering them to build new lives and livelihoods rather than being confined in refugee camps. As a result, they were able to contribute to the economic growth of the state. In fact, business started by Somali refugees provided jobs for native Ugandans (Betts et.al, 2014)—40% of these businesses’ employees are native Ugandans. This is an example that European states can follow; instead of seeing the incoming migrants as just a burden, they can assist the refugees to be financially independent rather than relying on government aid. In the end, as professor Hathaway stressed, refugees want to be productive members of society and contribute to their host countries, so why not help them and help the nation in the process.  

 

With thousands of refugees at its doorsteps, Europe cannot afford to repeat what occurred last year, where only few states played a major part in tackling the issue. Europe must update its refugee policy norms if it hopes to successfully address the migrant crisis. European countries can no longer ignore the inevitable influx of refugees that will spill over across the continent. And so, European nations can either watch this crisis wreak havoc across the continent or take charge as a collective group and bring order to the chaos caused by the refugee crises.

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