Refugees crisis. Different ‘Europes’ and few regrets

Posted on 28. September 2015

by Jorge Fernandez Gomez

jorge-fernandez-gomez-modifiedRecently, a famous Spanish writer produced an article in which he considered that it took a photo of a dead child on a beach to initiate policy responses to the tragic events taking place on Europe’s borders. He gave a scathing criticism of politicians, asking if the absence of photos of dead children is worrying as it could make our leaders forget the problem without having found a proper solution. Those words made me think not only about the magnitude of the situation, but also about the kind of responses member states are giving to this, as if it were a new problem that has appeared all of a sudden.

According to the Dublin Regulation, the country responsible for processing and registering refugees arriving in the EU is the member state through which the refugees first entered the territory of the EU. In practical terms, this means southern member states. Exceptionally, some countries have decided to welcome refugees, but not before hesitating and adjusting as much as possible, as if there was some kind of auction over the number of people they are going to help.

I’m surprised by the hypocrisy of this. In my 21 years of living in Spain, there has been no month in which I have not seen on the news the arrival of boats crowded with hundreds of migrants – including dozens dead – to the coast. In that time, I have never heard news of any response from any member state.

I am also fully aware that irregular migration and the current refugee crisis are distinct, but in terms of political and socio-economic responses, as well as humanitarian impact, they both can be considered the same thing. It seems to be that only now, as the crisis has a much more globally visible face, that it’s time to lead by example…

My criticism is not only limited to responses at the European level, but also to the domestic level, where there is a lack of legislation as well. This has permitted most political parties to use the difficulty of managing the massive arrival of people as a political weapon to modify public opinion in recent years.

Fortunately, beyond the difficulties of management, in Spain there haven’t been the same worrying attitudes of rejection as in some other European countries. I am referring to the rise of nationalism; the rejection of cultural and religious minorities; and the exploitation of the situation by extremist ideologies trying to get ’political credit’ by flying the flag of hatred. Only watching the news is enough to notice violence, hate, closed borders, the inhumane treatment of refugees, entire families displaced in precarious conditions, mafias taking advantage of the situation… and journalists tripping fathers with their sons.

I can understand the difficulty of reaching a consensus on the distribution of people; and that not all the countries have the same absorption capability; and that the distribution has to respond to a certain number of variables such as GDP, unemployment rate or availability of resources. However, the accommodation, food, legal advice and humane treatment can’t wait. These people need to rebuild their lives, and it has to be guaranteed that they are going to be helped, and that they won’t be left to roam our streets or find themselves in even worse situations. Integration has to be very well designed. Bad management could lead to social repudiation. Because of the economic crisis, many people are still having difficulties. They could claim they feel disregarded while they see refugees are being given a new life, as some critical voices are saying nowadays. Anyway, this doesn’t mean we can look away and dispense with humanity; refugees are still wandering through our borders. They have left everything in their country to escape from certain death.

It is self-evident that this situation needs to be turned around, and that this can only happen through solidarity between EU members. Maybe the EU should focus more on tackling the problem at its source, by taking some kind of military action in Syria, or perhaps member states need to consider their fundamental relationship with international institutions, and entrust the EU with the instruments to solve the problem. What is clear is that we are at the early stages of considering these fundamental questions, and that both the process and this crisis are likely to continue.