Saturday 22 October 2016

Europe struggles, Arab states shrug

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

A child and her father travel from Salzburg in Austria to Munich in Germany. (AP)
A child and her father travel from Salzburg in Austria to Munich in Germany. (AP)

The refugee and migrant crisis is not just a defining moment for Europe, but equally is the responsibility of Gulf States, in particular, and in the mid to longer term, of the United States and Russia and the international community as a whole.

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Europe has so far struggled to deal with the crisis which has developed throughout the summer but to which the European Union has responded with a piecemeal or incremental approach.

Forced into action by the publication of photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned while trying to reach Greece, the EU is now preparing emergency meetings to take decisions in response to the crisis. The situation requires a massive common effort.

Europe is facing its biggest refugee influx in decades. More than 300,000 people have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea so far this year. Over 2,600 did not survive the crossing. Those who do make it, continue their journey facing chaos, suffering indignity, exploitation and danger at borders and along the way.

Ireland has also been slow to respond, but indications that this country will accommodate 1,800 refugees are to be welcomed.

The majority of people arriving this year in Italy and Greece especially have been from countries mired in war. Such people require and deserve international protection. The vast majority of refugees arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are fleeing for their lives.

However, a smaller proportion is from elsewhere, and for many of these individuals, the term 'migrant' would be correct. Migrants choose to move mainly to improve their lives. All human beings need to be treated with respect and dignity. The human rights of migrants must also be respected. Those found not to be in need of international protection and who cannot benefit from legal migration opportunities should be helped to return home.

However, the massive flow of people will not stop until the root causes of their plight are addressed. More effective international co-operation is required to crack down on smugglers, including those operating inside the EU.

The international community, primarily the US and Russia, and the Syrian regime itself, must also do more to confront the Isil threat and end as quickly as possible the ongoing wars that are driving so many from their homes.

There are four million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey. To help prevent more people fleeing into Europe, there must be increased and improved essential support in such countries of first asylum.

Scrutiny should also be applied to the policies of governments in the Arabian peninsula. A damning finger must be pointed at Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.

Sunday Independent

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