Needed: A coordinated response to a global crisis

Merkel’s unilateral decision to throw her doors wide open, and then stopping the flow, exposed a serious split in the EU

It is almost amusing that the President of the European Union Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, called for more union in the European Union.

The EU, and its treaties, have been made tiny, almost irrelevant by their colossal failure to deal successfully with the refugee crisis. Europe has been brought to heel. But the refugee crisis is a global – not just a European – problem. What is needed is a coordinated response to a global crisis. Unfortunately, most of the Gulf States and Middle Eastern countries refuse to play their part. 

Merkel’s unilateral decisions

Merkel’s decision, to throw Germany’s doors wide open, which was meant to be a generous response, turned out to be pretty short sighted, as it was interpreted by tens of thousands of people that Europe was willing to receive them.

The situation quickly got out of hand, leaving the German Chancellor with no option but to do a U-turn and stop the flow into her country – Europe’s power house.

Schengen rules are now suspended. Germany borders nine countries, without its participation Schengen faces collapse, putting at risk one of the key principles of the European Union – the free movement of people. Merkel’s U-turn is widely viewed as a political blunder by Europe’s master tactician. 

A serious split within the EU

Merkel’s unilateral decision to throw her doors wide open, and then stopping the flow by, unilaterally, re-establishing national border controls on its southern frontier with Austria; the UK’s refusal to agree on binding refugee quotas, and Eastern European member states introducing new closed borders regime, exposed a serious split within the European Union.

An expensive talking shop

Jean Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg last week had the soundings of an EU leader who has lost all sense of hope that he can ever rally all member states behind his Commission on migration. Member states rejected his proposal for binding refugee quotas. Juncker and his un-elected colleagues in Brussels are partly to blame.

With no longterm strategy in place, this was bound to happen. For years, EU leaders thought that the Dublin regulation was the solution. It never was. The majority of the EU’s external borders are in those member states with the least capacity and resources to deal with migration flows. Malta and Greece are a case in point. Little effort was done by the EU to tackle the problem at source, despite endless Summits and press conferences. On migration, the EU has proved to be an expensive talking shop. 

Open door policies fail

EU member states throwing their doors wide open, although a genuine response to people fleeing persecution and famine, proved not to be the solution. Europe cannot, on its own, cope with huge migrant flows. The refugee crisis needs a coordinated response and must be tackled at source. The war in Syria has been dragging for more than a decade and it was a matter of time before Syrians would flee their war torn country, especially now with large parts of the country controlled by ISIS.

It is estimated that more than four million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict erupted in 2011, and that around 12.2 million Syrians need help in the country, of whom 7.6 million are internally displaced. The EU wasted a decade discussing ways and means on how best to deal with migration flows – and no solutions were found, instead they allowed the crisis in Syria to fester.

Yemen too is a humanitarian catastrophe. According to the UN, 80% of Yemen’s 25 million population is on the brink of famine. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram is on a rampage kidnapping, raping and killing civilians. Large areas of Iraq have been conquered by ISIS, and Afghanistan is a mess. 

Reception centres in Africa

In Brussels, on Monday evening, EU interior ministers proposed the setting up of reception centres in Africa to halt new arrivals in Europe. Asylum claims would be decided in the African reception centres. This might help to stop the flow into Europe, although it is doubtful whether African countries would accept to host EU-sponsored reception centres and refugee camps. Fundamental human rights issues might be breached in the process. 

EU citizens are worried

Immigration is one of the most important issues facing European citizens. It is unpopular, especially with those living on Europe’s external borders. It is also unpopular with EU citizens living in mainland Europe. In Greece, people are already burdened with austerity measures imposed from Brussels. Malta is too small to cope with large flows of migrants, whilst thousands of migrants from Northern Africa have reached Italy in rickety boats over the past few months – stretching Italy’s resources to the limits. Citizens in Spain, France and the UK have to grapple with problems of their own, notably mass unemployment and inflation. EU leaders cannot ignore these factors. They usually do – especially unelected politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels. 

A global crisis

But the refugee crisis is a global – not just a European – problem. It is a global crisis which needs a coordinated response. Whilst Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon have been accommodating tens of thousands of refugees in their refugee camps for decades, it is shameful that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE – refuse to give sanctuary to the Syrian refugees, who are, literally, on their doorstep. Syrians are barred from entering all Arab countries except for Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania and Algeria, without a visa. 

The future is bleak

In the US, populist Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s solution to a global, humanitarian, crisis is walls and military action. His position on walls is, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, getting a big hearing. In Europe, two decades of open travel in EU member states have been dealt a blow by Germany’s decision to suspend Schengen. Hungary sealed its frontier with Serbia, an external Schengen border to keep refugees out.

Countries on the external borders of Europe – Malta, Greece and Italy – are unable to deal with large flows of migrants. Millions of men, women and children are seeking refuge in Europe and beyond. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers are waiting behind walls on Europe’s borders – most of them have no place to call home – their homes, their countries, their future have been destroyed. World leaders refuse to pull together to address the crisis. Racism and xenophobia are on the rise. Today it’s people fleeing wars and religious extremism, tomorrow it’s people fleeing climate change and failed economies. The future is bleak.