Thursday 22 February 2018

'Europe must share burden of refugee crisis'

Migrants stand next to a burning makeshift shelter during the dismantlement of the migrant shanty town called the
Migrants stand next to a burning makeshift shelter during the dismantlement of the migrant shanty town called the "Jungle" in Calais, France.
Mary Robinson

Shona Murray in Brussels

Mary Robinson has condemned as "unconscionable" and "inhumane" the failure by many EU states to solve the refugee crisis.

The former President of Ireland is urging all EU members to "share the burden" of the hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing into Europe every month.

She was speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels ahead of next Monday's 'make or break' EU leaders' summit with Turkey, aimed at addressing the insurmountable refugee problems at EU borders.

Yesterday, the parliament heard of the added traumas suffered by women refugees in recent months, in particular the practice of 'survival sex', where women are forced to have sex with the smugglers and mafia members transporting them to Europe from Turkey and Libya.

Survival sex among women and children is well-known, says UN Women Regional Director for Turkey, Ingibjorg Gisladottir, but the incidence is hard to quantify as women rarely wish to recount this on record for fear of recrimination and 'dishonour' among their families and communities.

Mrs Robinson pointed out that women face far greater risks of "violence, exploitation and trafficking" and are more vulnerable en route to Europe.

Women and children now make up 55pc of those coming to Europe from war zones. She called for 'gender-sensitive' reception areas upon arrival, as well as female physicians and counselling services.

She said there was a need for host countries in "identifying victims of sexual and gender- based violence", because women were less likely to "self-report" their experiences - which often included rape, abuse and female genital mutilation.

"They must be given an enabling environment," she told delegates and members of the European Parliament.

Greece, Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia are some of the European countries most affected by the crisis. The island of Lesbos in Greece, with a population of 90,000, receives around 6,000 refugees daily and 124,000 refugees arrived in Greece as a whole since the start of this year alone.

In total, well over one million refugees have entered Europe in the last year - mostly from Turkey to Greece.

While EU member states agreed last September to relocate 160,000 refugees from Turkey, only 200 have actually been resettled, according to the European Commission. Ireland has taken 10 from this agreement.

"Often women are stripped of their mobile phones, kept as hostages and separated from their husbands before being launched into the sea," said Amnesty International's Iverna McGowan.

Mrs Robinson also called ‑on all female parliamentarians across Europe to show solidarity towards women in such desperate circumstances.

"Women parliamentarians across Europe need to raise their voices," she said.

She also warned that it is no excuse to "claim ignorance" of the grave risks braved by women and girls seeking sanctuary from war zones. And referring to the often heavy-handed behaviour by some national police border enforcers in some EU states, Mrs Robinson said the "violent scenes of police actions at either ends of Europe diminish us all".

There is little or no unity among European governments in dealing with the crisis.

At the centre of the current impasse is the Austrian government's decision to impose restrictions on the number of refugees it lets pass its border - much to the anger of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

It also stems from Angela Merkel's announcement late last year that Germany would take almost limitless refugees.

Monday's meeting will likely see strong pressure put on Turkey to implement the agreement it made with the EU last November, which would see it provide better facilities, education and working permits for refugees. In return, Turkey is to receive €3bn and other compensation such as visa-free travel to the EU.

Irish Independent

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