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The Refugee Crisis in Europe - September 2015

David Martin MEP

Spare a thought for Angela Merkel. Throughout the Greek debt crisis she was panned for her uncaring uncompromising stance. At the outset of the refugee crisis she demonstrated a humanitarian and generous spirit and was attacked for it. Der Spiegel, who had accused her of being too tough on the Greeks, now said she was too charitable to migrants. The Sunday Times claimed “Walls are going all over Europe – thanks to Mother Merkel's kindness”.

The reality of course is that Europe was already a pole of attraction for people fleeing war, starvation and human rights abused. I do not believe that Mrs Merkel's intervention made a significant difference to the flow of people coming to Europe. What it undoubtedly did do was make Germany seem like a more attractive option. In doing so it is true that this placed greater pressure on Germany's immediate neighbours, who became transit countries for people in search of sanctuary.

The knock on effect from one government's policy to the wider region is one of many indications as to why this crisis needs a European solution. It is interesting to note that the European Commission and the European Parliament have had very clear responses to the crisis whilst EU leaders have struggled to find a co-ordinated response. Surely this is a demonstration of the limitations of intergovernmentalism, rather than as claimed in some of the British press, a failure of EU institutions.

Finally EU ministers stepped up to the plate (on the 23rd of September) and approved a plan to be put to the European Council for adoption. It will relocate 120,000 refugees across the continent. Ironically some of the countries with arguably the most to gain from such a scheme fiercely opposed it.

The numbers in relation to the flow of people are very modest, with at least half a million people already in Europe and this number expected to rise to a million before Christmas.

If nothing changes a million might be a fraction of what we could expect in the future. Almost half of Syria's 24 million citizens have been displaced since the war began 4 years ago. With the situation in camps across Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon rapidly deteriorating who could blame the estimated 7 million "housed" in these countries for attempting to reach Europe.

Migration is unpredictable and complex and cannot normally be explained by a single driving force. However, the current refugee crisis clearly has its origins in the war in Syria. A political solution to that crisis would ease the present crisis. That said, all the evidence suggests that however intermittent and unpredictable, there will be a continuing flow of refugees and migrants to the EU for years to come. We therefore need to find short, medium and long term strategies to deal with it. In the short term more even burden sharing and solidarity is urgently required. As Jean Claude Juncker put it, we need more Europe and more Union. In the medium term we need to build proper reception centres for refugees, improve screening for asylum seekers so they can be quickly integrated into society and stronger measures against people traffickers. In the long run we must be more willing to tackle rogue states and act against governments carrying out human rights abuses, and we should use our development budget to give people hope of a better life in their own country.

The UK cannot continue to stand apart from efforts to find an EU solution; even though we have an opt-out on Migration policy we have no opt-out from its impact. The Prime Minister's agreement to take 20,000 refugees over 5 years is a welcome, if modest, beginning. But why do we need a unique British solution? Surely it is much better to be part of an EU wide one.

The EU is meant to be a community of values. In an increasingly euro sceptic environment this is a chance for the EU to show it can be a force for good. The UK government and other member states reluctant to accept their equal share of refugees should listen to the citizens whose humanitarian instincts have been much stronger than those of their leaders.

Article published in Scotland Europa