António Rolo Duarte
This Sunday leaders from Central European and Balkan countries converged in Brussels to discuss Europe's current refugee crisis, in an emergency mini-summit called by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. The practical results of this meeting are yet unknown but at The Manchester Magazine, we thought it made for an appropriate time to reflect on the events of the last few months and draw some conclusions – or open up new questions – from them. Our special report this week aims for just that.
From my perspective, there are two central issues in this refugee crisis. One is very large in numbers and it refers to the people who have made it into Europe already. The solution for that one is straightforward. Despite the costs involved and hassle that it might cause, European leaders should come together quickly and smoothly, put history aside and start working seriously in distributing people and integrating them. German chancellor Angela Merkel has made a good start.
If countries like Slovakia, Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic make a point of being an obstacle to teamwork, then they should be asked for a significant and long-lasting contribution of money, bureaucratic assistance for processing applications and humanitarian aid in order to compensate for their lack of will to participate in the common policy. And the sooner they get their wallets out, the better – countries like Italy could use a budget boost for coast guard and security services.
The second central issue in the current crisis concerns the people who are yet to come. We simply cannot accomodate everyone who would like to live in Europe but the reasons making people flee are still too striking to ignore. Thus the solution has to go by ending those reasons.
If humanitarian disaster was a disease, it would not be cured by smoothing the side effects, but by targeting the source of infection. In relation to places like Syria or Iraq, displacement should then not be answered with allowing more refugees into Europe and trying to accommodate them. It should instead be solved by eliminating the push factors which make people leave. It is easier and significantly more effective to help a group of people when they have a home, a set of belongings and a familiar atmosphere than when they arrive starving, badly dressed and empty-handed at a deserted Italian island or crowded Hungarian station. And if the causes for well-founded fear of persecution are eliminated, so are the reasons for seeking asylum.
Foreign intervention is a delicate matter which has throughout history been controversial both when it happens and when it fails to happen. However what has also been seen at different times is that the results of inaction are often worse than those of action. The examples of Rwanda or Somalia come to mind.
I deeply believe that Europe should once and for all come together and invest in the ending of the current crisis. For that, the "vigorous arming of the rebels, the creation of humanitarian corridors and the imposition of no-fly zones" in Syria, which the Economist argued for in 2012, all still make sense today. But that is not enough. A solid coordination of at least four strategies will be needed: a large, well-orchestrated military mission to progressively reduce the violence in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries; a robust humanitarian assistance and state-building policy initially aimed at the safe havens of the region; a speedy and smart diplomatic discourse with influential world powers such as Russia and regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia; and an Australian-style “stop the boats” approach, targeting people-smuggling criminal networks in the Mediterranean and the Balkans who feed on the fear of the populace.
The problem right now is still that apart from sporadic, feeble attempts at seeking a coordinated policy – such as this Sunday’s effort by Mr Juncker –, the European decision-making concerning the refugee crisis has been weak, selfish and largely narrow-minded. This must not go on.
To deal with a continental problem, more than the sole voices of Mr Juncker or Mrs Merkel are needed. European states must leave their small differences aside and band together. It is our only hope that in unity there might still be strength.
António Rolo Duarte is editor-in-chief of The Manchester Magazine. He is a Politics and International Relations student at The University of Manchester