Too Little, Too Late: The EU's Agreement to Solve The Migrant Crisis

Every day of inaction costs us our moral credibility. Thousands upon thousands of desperate people, fleeing war and human rights abuses - sheer awfulness which our cossetted imaginations cannot conceive - scramble for the safety and protection of the European Union; yet our leaders’ limited vision in the face of human tragedy is an abrupt reminder of how spineless, selfish, even decadent the Old Continent has become.

Germany’s action has been more commendable but it has been unable to provide the necessary moral leadership and its efforts alone won’t be enough to give refuge to the hundreds of thousand escaping war and poverty. The undignified attitude of central and eastern European states, whose own people felt the pull of richer and freer lands only a few decades ago, is matched by evasion and buck-passing from nations further west.

What does our diffidence and equivocation as we confront so much misfortune say about us, and about Europe? 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year according to the UN Commissioner on Refugees, more have come by land. This happened on our watch. We have watched this happening. We have tolerated the biggest migration crisis since World War II as it unfolded cruelly before our eyes in the hope that the problem somehow would go away.

The language we use allows us to harden our hearts and do too little to end a grossly humiliating and degrading spectacle

We have allowed ourselves to think of Syrian people, Iraqi people and so many other peoples de-humanisingly as ‘migrants’, ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees’ - sometimes, even worse, we have justified inaction by labelling them ‘economic migrants’ as if they held only bad intent - who are different to the rest of us: an alien ‘other’ who are a little less human than ourselves, a little less deserving than ourselves. We empathise but that empathy is limited, the language we use allows us to harden our hearts to them and do too little to end a grossly humiliating and degrading spectacle.

Solving the immediate crisis, which is seeing thousands of men, women and children herded around the plains of central Europe with all the dignity we afford cattle, cannot be beyond the conceit of an advanced and civilised continent. Nations which regularly organise mass music festivals and sports matches can surely - if we find the will - meet a challenge of similar numbers.

The agreement today among EU justice ministers to re-settle 120,000 people over the next two years - despite opposition from four nations - is welcome but clearly insufficient.

There is an urgent need for international action to ensure that fewer people have to make these journeys and that those who have or do are protected. This must led by the EU but with the participation of the US and Russia. We must tackle the immediate problem and address its causes.

Our leaders must act collectively in order to create a joined-up, comprehensive and lasting solution if not to deal with the current crisis, then at least to have robust structures in place by the end of next winter when thousands will again embark on perilous journeys towards Europe. Twice as many people have crossed the Med so far this year as in 2014, and the number is eight times as high as in 2013. There is every reason to believe that, left unchecked, this crisis will get worse in 2016 rather than improve.

leaders whose populations have reaped the benefits of freedom of movement within the European Union must be reminded of their hypocrisy

Europe as a whole, country by country, must now match Germany’s humanitarian action; national leaders must shape the response rather than fear their electorates; those leaders whose populations have reaped the benefits of freedom of movement within the European Union must be reminded of their hypocrisy. Governments must act but so must we.

In 2014 the fifteen federal states in Germany launched an individual sponsorship programme allowing groups and communities to take on the costs of resettling refugees. This has run successfully alongside the central government’s Humanitarian Assistance Programme. According to the UN Commission for Human Rights, since 2013 20,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled under HAP, with a further 15,000 under individual sponsorship. Canada has a similar programme which has been responsible for the overwhelming number of resettlements. With cash-strapped governments reluctant to shoulder costs, leaders should urgently encourage a similar model so that other nations can take on an increased burden. The UK has already committed to a feeble 20,000 through government programmes: a communities sponsorship programme could triple that number to 60,000. Rolled out proportionately across the EU, this could have a significant impact on the crisis.

Tackling the crisis also means tackling the roots causes. This will not be easy and for many it will be unpalatable. However ISIL represents a moral test. We should be prepared to challenge them not out of self-interest but on behalf of citizens who have been displaced, who face brutality, whose lives are at risk. Ultimately order may only be gradually restored with the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, whose violent response to pro-democracy protests started a civil war in which 200,000 have lost their lives and many more their homes. But for now, the US response to keep al-Assad in place while the evil thugs of ISIL are defeated by an American European and Russian force. The aim should not merely to defeat ISIL but step by step to end the humanitarian crisis.

This crisis demands a response. But it also demands moral leadership which reminds us of our responsibilities and our humanity.

In 1994 Rwanda’s Hutu-led government slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi minorities and moderate Hutus in one of the grossest acts of genocide since the second world war. It is to our lasting shame that global inactivity allowed that to happen without sanction. We must not repeat this error. The EU is the world’s largest economy, but we only command a moderate influence in the world. Britain and the EU must take a role and make sure we assume that role for good and for protecting those who are now world’s most vulnerable.

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Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.

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