Refugee crisis: EU must be fully united

Written by Cécile Kyenge on 6 October 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Europe has made some progress in dealing with the refugee crisis, but much more remains to be done, writes Cécile Kyenge.

Today, we are witnessing a near biblical exodus. This is the image that came to mind when I visited Hungary recently, and saw first-hand the arrival of migrants along the borders with Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.

As soon as I reached the Austrian border, I saw, with my own eyes, 3000 people queuing up to wait for permission to cross the border. It was total chaos. 

People had been uprooted, many of them were confused and asking what the correct procedure was and where they should go. They were tired and disoriented. It was disturbing to see women, children and men so debilitated by a long and difficult journey, at the mercy of events out of their control, day after day.


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Whoever fans the flames of fear in these grave crises is playing a dirty game, gambling on the potentially explosive nature of the unheard proportions of this exodus, and the economic crisis that continues to gnaw away at the daily lives of millions of Europeans. It is intended to cause permanent social conflict, simply to reap electoral rewards.

Before going to Hungary, I was in Lampedusa, Sicily, with a European Parliament delegation. We boarded Triton, Eunavfor Med and operation secure sea ships. 

In the space of a day, I saw both the flexible and visible progress that has been made, and what remains to be done by the EU. Decisive measures have been taken in the Mediterranean, with European naval services acting together to search for people and save lives.

However, along our eastern borders, I saw the signs of what we weren't doing. There is no consistency in terms of receiving refugees, nor has there been any collective European action on the main causes of immigration. As a result, barriers are being erected. 

The EU has adopted - not without difficulty or opposition - a mechanism for the relocation of 120,000 refugees who have arrived in Europe. 

This follows months of discussion to approve the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. Considering that Italy alone sees more than 120,000 people entering the country over the course of a year, this is not sufficient.

As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker remarked in his plenary address last month, refugees currently arriving in the EU only represent 0.11 per cent of the total population. In Libya - a country that is five times less wealthy than the EU - refugees make up 25 per cent of the population.

We must devise a European immigration policy that includes the right to asylum, and in doing so we must fully implement the principle of solidarity.  As clearly stated in the treaties, solidarity is the basis of the European integration process. 

Therefore, we need an overhaul of the Dublin regulation. It is no longer compatible with the principles that should bind the member states.

The EU must act now. The only way to deal with immigration is by acting together as Europe, as a federal state of 500 million citizens. 

The member states preventing this leap forward are in the minority. The process is already in train, albeit at a slower pace than we would have hoped for, due to the resistance of certain governments.

Dealing with this phenomenon requires a common European policy in many areas, including search and rescue, countering and destroying human trafficking networks, redistribution and relocation of those seeking asylum between the member states. 

We must also act together to pacify crisis areas along our borders and reinforce European African development policies. 

We need common agreements with countries of origins for assisted returns, and harmonise reception policies for asylum seekers.

The pillars of this common European policy are already in the field. When Italy began operation Mare Nostrum, it was alone. Now, the European Commission has come forward with an organic proposal. 

A large majority in the European Parliament are favourable to the full implementation of the principle of solidarity. Most European Union member states support taking a leap forward in European asylum and immigration policies.

It is time to put an end to this terrible crisis. This has been called 'the worst crisis since World War II'. Just as the process of European integration was borne from the ashes of that conflict, this may mark the birth of a new, fully united European policy - our Europe.

 

About the author

Cécile Kyenge (S&D, IT) is Parliament's co-rapporteur on the situation in the Mediterranean and need for a holistic EU approach to migration

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