Refugee crisis: Many alternatives to closing EU borders
The EU has many tools at its disposal to make it easier for refugees to arrive safely, writes Judith Sargentini.
More and more people are fleeing war and conflict. The number of those trying to reach Europe safely is increasing, and the death toll along our shores has surged. The lack of safe and legal routes is driving refugees to desperate means, such as going to criminal smugglers, travelling on dingy boats and in suffocating trucks, in search of protection for themselves and their families.
Rather than reaching out to those in need of protection, member states are increasingly tightening borders. When refugees try to come to Europe, they are not stopped by metal fences or concrete walls.
Instead, they are blocked by a paper barrier - the visa - and the difficulty, sometimes even the impossibility, of having a document that grants them protection and means they do not need to resort to a dangerous journey to come to the EU.
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There are many alternatives to the perilous undertakings which people choose out of desperation. Increasing the number of refugees to be resettled, applying family reunification rules more generously so that 18-year olds can join their parents and younger siblings in Europe, issuing humanitarian visas so that people could safely travel to the country in which they seek asylum - these are all possible solutions.
Instead of exploring ways in which we can reach out to those who seek protection in Europe, some member states have shifted the debate from refugees, towards creating safe havens and zones near conflict areas, pinpointing safe countries and outsourcing the asylum process to countries in the region.
These plans raise many alarming questions. Which countries are being given the ability to assess asylum applications on behalf of the EU? How long will applicants stay in the camps created by such a system?
What happens to those who are already waiting in the camps, since many member states are unwilling to resettle people from United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) camps, and the relocation of asylum seekers with the Union has proven to be a challenge? To what extent are these third countries willing to cooperate? And how is the responsibility shared?
The EU does not have jurisdiction over refugee camps, and the UNHCR cannot guarantee the safety of those residing in the camps - this responsibility lies with the host country.
In Sudanese refugee camps, for example, abduction, looting and rape are commonplace. Camps in the region face deteriorating conditions, particularly a lack of food and healthcare. This is driving human beings - refugees - to seek fulfilment of their basic needs elsewhere, such as in the EU.
Member states must act now. They should apply all existing mechanisms for safe and legal avenues to the EU.
They should also allow refugees to apply for asylum at member states' embassies and consular offices in third countries, grant a visa waiver to Syrian refugees, and remove burdensome restraints for family reunification, such as the language and finance thresholds.
Humanitarian agencies need more funding, so that we can help those who will not and cannot leave the region.
We should uphold values such as humanity and solidarity and the individual right to asylum, and play our part when it comes to north Africa and Syria.
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