The European refugee drama: Are the EU leaders willing to address the causes?

By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On August 27th a Western Balkans conference will take place in Vienna (Austria) assembling state leaders and foreign ministers from 10 states, which includes leaders from the EU and Western Balkan states. Originally the conference had been planned to discuss the perspective of how to further integrate non- EU states like Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia -Hercegovina and Montenegro into the EU. However, overshadowed by the refugee crisis that has hit Europe dramatically during the last weeks, the conference agenda has been shifted and the EU heads of states, F. Mogherini (High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and leaders from the Western Balkan states will essentially discuss emergency measures how to efficiently answer to the refugee crisis in the future.

 

In preparation for the summit Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz presented a five point paper: He proposed among other things that those EU states which are located near the “refugees’ countries of origin” as well representing the external borders of the EU, create “centers of reception” and distribute the asylum seekers in the EU by following a “quota system”, while at the same time they should intensify efforts to protect their own borders. Noteworthy in the five point – plan is a paragraph which underlines the need to efficiently address the “causes” for migration. The paper demands the implementation of more diplomatic means along the model of the successful “Iran nuclear deal” and it calls simultaneously for effectively combatting the IS terrorism with the help of an American led international alliance. The five point plan further suggests the creation of “protection- and buffer zones” in the civil war torn countries which should be accompanied by more efficient control of the Western- and Eastern Mediterranean Sea Route. “Reception centers” located in “hot spot” countries like Italy and Greece need to get more EU financial support, the 5 point program outlined.

Similar proposals were also made in a ten point program written by German Foreign Minister F.W. Steinmeier and German Economic minister Gabriel for the Sunday edition of the German daily FAZ (23.08.2015). The Ministers qualified the present refugee crisis as a task for “generations” to come, which demands the readiness to protect and help those people who flee away from political persecution and wars. The two SPD ministers emphasized that the EU must not hesitate but “act” and called for a “unified European asylum and migration policy”, that is based on the principle of “solidarity and human values.” What is needed, they wrote, is a “unified standard” concerning an appropriate handling of all those who apply for asylum status in a given country. The Mediterranean Sea, they stated, can’t be turned into “mass grave”. In  order to secure for asylum seekers a safe return to the “countries of origin”,  those countries of origin (Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro et al. which people are fleeing from because of economic conditions and poverty, not because of political persecution)  must be given logistical, financial and economic assistance by the EU. At the same time they stressed that European migration policy must above all fight against the “causes” of migration that are located in countries in the Mideast and Africa. This implies the “stabilization” of failing states which are falling apart; the containment of violence and civil wars, as well as the creation of a comprehensive economic development and social perspectives for those young people who flee from their countries of origin.

Signals from the Catholic Church

In the capital of Albania, Tirana, under the patronage of the catholic lay organization San Egidio and with support coming from the respective orthodox and catholic churches, a conference is organized for September 6-8 under the title “Peace is always possible. Religions and cultures in dialogue.”  The conference is organized in the spirit of the first conference of Assisi which in 1986 had been convoked by Pope John Paul II as conference to “pray for peace”. In a statement issued by San Egidio, it was underlined a few days ago that “we observe since years wars and yet nobody has the necessary strength and will to stop them. Wars like the one which takes place in Syria demand every day new victims among the civilian population and lead to antagonism along ethnic lines and among religions.”

An equally important call was made by the Chairman of the Bishops Conference of the democratic republic of Congo- Bishop Nicolas Djomo of Tschumbe. In the context of a Pan African Youth conference in Kinshasa August 21 to 25, he called upon the 120 young delegates not to be guided “by illusions if you leave your countries looking for workplaces in Europe or America which do not exist”.  He instead appealed to them to use their “talents as a resource  of innovation and change of  the African continent and for promoting peace and reconciliation in  Africa.”

 

 Refugee’s situation in Germany

It is indeed breathtaking if we simply look at those figures of refugees who have tried to ask for asylum in the last weeks in the EU. According to a statement by German Interior Minister de Maizière, Germany alone (!) expects this year 800.000 asylum seekers. Most of the refugees (40%) come from “countries of origin” which are located in the Western Balkans – i.e. countries which are not defined as places whose refugees can expect to be granted political asylum. However a close look at Kosovo (1,8 Mio inhabitants which became independent from Serbia in 2008), Albania, Bosnia- Hercegovina et al. shows that these  are places where half of the young people (between 14 and  29 years) is unemployed with no economic perspective at all. All these places are marked by the traces of the devastating wars that ravaged the Balkans 16 years ago. In addition this refugee tragedy – as Pope Francis already stated in July 2013 during his visit of the island Lampedusa, is organized by smugglers that are “profiting from the misery of other people.” Organized criminal networks are making a huge business in promising to help bring people into the EU in return for an “astronomical sum” of money, by boat, bus or other means. One should recall the horrendous accident 19th of April this year when 800 people from Africa (Libya) drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Most of the German federal states and communes are at this moment engaged in a frantic attempt to create quickly functioning “reception and registration centers”, organize housing, food, as well as trying to swiftly process the application formulas for asylum. Most of those asylum seekers from Kosovo, Serbia and Albania however after a few months will be returned to their countries of origins. In addition there are thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan asking for asylum. There are not enough containers in the federal state of Hessen and in many communes sports halls as well as army barracks have been emptied to give thousands of incoming refugees which are arriving every day, some housing. In some cases this has led to the outbreak of social tensions including the case of the city of Heidenau   (Saxonia) where a major confrontation took place between right wing provocateurs and the police, who were protecting the refugees.

 

In all this media hype about the wave of migration – what is almost unnoted is the fact that in another theater of war- in Ukraine/ eastern Ukraine- there are right now according to the UNHCR 1.4 Mio internally displaced persons (refugees), most of them fleeing from the war front in Eastern Ukraine. A great number has been received by Russia; others remain in the Ukraine waiting desperately for humanitarian help.And one should also note that in countries like Iraq and Syria at this moment there are 13 Million displace people, who try to flee the wars.

Wars being the main cause of refugee dramas

The real deplorable fact in the refugee drama is that there is no solidarity  nor unity among the 28 EU member states- and that the summits which were held in May and June this year, calling for a more unified policy such as quota system for distribution of  refugees – respecting of course the economic capability of a given country— were  rejected by several countries, above all by Great Britain under PM Cameron and by some Eastern and Central European Countries- like Poland which demanded a “voluntary” rather than an imposed “solidarity” within the EU. Italian Prime Minister Renzi, who has taken a tremendous burden on the shoulders if Italy, correctly felt appalled by this kind of national egoism.

However the ugly reality behind this biggest refugee crisis since the end of Second World War is not being discussed in the public debate. As an experienced German political observer recently said at an event in Bonn, which the author attended,  “most of today’s refugees come from war torn regions, regions of civil war conflicts like Syria , Afghanistan, Libya  and other civil wars in the Mideast regions.” These are regions “where the wars were initiated by the United States being helped by some of their European allies.”  As result of these wars today several millions of people are fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Libya as well as from failed states which are run by a corrupt leadership, in trying to find a safe place via Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary in Europe, or by using the Mediterranean Sea. The observer provocatively asked whether the “US which after all initiated these wars” should not help Europe in the Mediterranean with its sixth fleet.

The answer to this refugee crisis can’t be a “fortress” Europe which is surrounded by huge “fences”. Unless the structural causes of the migration crisis are addressed by the EU leaders and a commitment made for a big European economic development plan, accompanied by serious efforts made to end the devastating wars, there will not be  an end to the misery of mostly young people and their families who are right now on the move.

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