Posted on 13. October 2014
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that the refugee crisis in Syria is the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era. Add the crisis in Iraq, and it becomes obvious that the Middle East is encountering a massive catastrophe. UNHCR estimates that there are more than 3 million Syrians who have fled the country. The EU member states are generous – to some extent – in providing funds, but fall short when it comes to accepting refugees. The countries in Syria’s immediate neighbourhood on the other hand (Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey), each have accepted more Syrian refugees than all 28 EU member states combined. In total, Syria’s neighbours are hosting more than 3 million refugees; the EU member states accepted less than 100.000 of them, which accounts to 3% to 4% of the overall number of Syrian refugees.
Commissioner-designate Avramopoulos surprisingly gave encouraging messages and criticized the Fortress Europe approach during his hearing at the European Parliament, even though his past record is controversial. Rather than being merely a donor, the EU should also look at ways to accept more Syrian refugees, who are running away from one of the most devastating crises in the world. The new EU leadership should encourage its member states to share the burden with other actors in the international community and create legal ways for refugees to come to Europe. Otherwise, tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea will become the new normal.
Along with creating a legal framework that will allow migrants to legally cross the EU’s borders, pushing member states to show more solidarity with other member states is another important aspect of this issue. 5 EU member states host 70% of the refugees, said outgoing Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström in a recent contribution in Challenge Europe. Germany and Sweden are the most hospitable destinations, while France for example only accepted 500 refugees on humanitarian grounds.
Mr. Avramopoulos and the EU have some tough challenges to meet, including setting up a new framework for legal migration, protecting the Union’s borders, convincing member states to host more refugees and helping people in need in Africa and the Middle East. If the EU, however, chooses to ignore them, it will be betraying its own values.