Only A Global Quota System Can Bring Justice to Europe's Migrant Crisis

The photo of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned while trying to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, was the last straw for many. As Europe’s migrant crisis claimed more lives and left hundreds of thousands in misery, the photo went viral and became front page news around the world. Such was the outcry that David Cameron softened his stance with a pledge to take “thousands more” asylum seekers currently living in camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.

Although the terrible image has spurred the European Union once again to try and find a solution after July’s quota-agreement washout, it risks distorting the response to put an end to this inhumane situation. As Tumblr, Twitter and Upworthy fly into overdrive about human rights and comparisons with World War II, such an emotional backdrop is not the best starting point for solving one of the biggest and most complex challenges Europe may ever face.

Over the past week thousands of mostly-Syrian people have been camped out in Budapest and are now making their way to Germany via Austria to take up refugee status under Angela Merkel’s new rules that allows asylum to all Syrians. Merkel has been lauded while other leaders have been castigated, but it’s difficult to say whether her generous gesture is not making matters worse.

As it stands, it’s not just the EU’s confused response that has allowed this situation to become a crisis. What complicates matters is that almost all asylum seekers want to get to only a few Western European countries. According to Eurostat, of the 28 EU member states, over 90% of asylum applications went to just nine of them: Germany, Sweden, Italy, France, Hungary, the UK, Austria, Holland and Belgium – in that order. Over 80% of those granted were in six countries, among them Germany and Britain. It’s not surprising that there is a crisis when the burden of helping potentially millions of people not just from Syria, but from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and others falls on the shoulders of a handful of Western European countries.

too many in Europe remain averse to giving a helping hand

It's not that Europe doesn't have the space to take in most of those who want to come. But too many in Europe remain averse to giving a helping hand, particularly among Eastern Europeans. For instance, Lithuania accepted 70 of just 185 asylum claims in 2014. In turn, this puts off asylum seekers from seeking out those countries as potential safe-havens.

Merkel’s decision to accept all Syrians as refugees has effectively suspended the Dublin System that makes asylum seekers apply for asylum in the first EU state they enter. This loads border states with the main responsibility for handling asylum claims, but with Germany's new rule, they are becoming more comfortable with waving asylum seekers through. With those seeking asylum now effectively free to pick the country they ultimately want to settle in, the burden will continue to fall on Germany and a few others. This is unsustainable in the long term.

But during a crisis such as this, there is a global duty on any state which is capable of upholding asylum seekers’ basic human rights. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are among the richest countries in the world and yet have taken almost no asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Countries where millions of asylum seekers currently find themselves including Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan don't have the will or the infrastructure to properly integrate and help them all. Others farther afield such as the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea and most of Central and Eastern Europe have a moral duty to accept quota systems to help resettle those affected in the Middle-East and beyond. It is not the duty of Germany alone to accept the bulk of asylum seekers, even if at the moment its leaders (and seemingly much of its public) are comfortable doing so.

Asylum seekers who have been granted some refugee status should be shared through a quota system decided by lotteryAsylum seekers who have been granted some refugee status should be shared between these countries through a quota system decided by lottery in order to prevent any one country taking on more than it can manage. Harsh as it sounds, it’s hard to see another system that at once maintains asylum seekers' human rights while also maintaining states’ duties to citizens, some of whom will be newly admitted refugees.

The world has risen to the challenge before. At least 1.3 million people in the Indochina refugee crisis settled in a number of countries including the US between 1975 and 1995. Today’s crisis well exceeds those figures, which is why the response needs to be more comprehensive and long-lasting. Four million people have fled Syria alone, with further conflicts and dictatorships displacing millions more in other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

These countries’ birth-rates suggests that this is just the beginning of the migrant crisis. Europe cannot and should not manage alone. This is a global crisis, caused by global issues, that requires a global solution.

More about the author

About the author

As well as a regular contributor on politics for Disclaimer, Liam has written for the New Statesman, Prospect Magazine, the Huffington Post, When Saturday Comes and the Sunday Express.

He is currently back at school completing an MA at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

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