Everyone’s problem

, by Afonso Morango

Everyone's problem
A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. Hungary, Central Europe, 6 September 2015. Credits: Mstyslav Chernov, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/license...> , via Wikimedia Commons

TNF supports JEF-Europe’s campaign #DemocracyUnderPressure that this year will take place from the 18th to the 25th of March.

There is one red line that we should not cross. It is a commitment to human rights, the respect of the dignity of the human being. There should be no compromises – Angela Merkel

Large numbers can feel cold, distant or even comforting, because they do not feel like people. When millions die, the world often looks at it as a mere statistic and this was one of the reasons much of the world was able to ignore this problem until recently.

At the Evian Conference in 1938, 32 countries met to discuss how to help Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror. Since then, the civilised world has hidden behind legal arguments. At the time, two countries said they had already reached the saturation level of Jewish refugees; four agreed only to receive experienced agricultural workers; one would only accept baptised immigrants; three stated that intellectuals and merchants were undesirable and one other country feared that the arrival of Jews would generate anti-Semitism.

Fortunately, the world today is very different from 1938. But the successive refugee crises of recent years have caught Europe off guard. Current rules dictate that the first country a refugee enters is the only one competent to examine the asylum claim, which has resulted in Greece and Italy being responsible for most of the people arriving on their shores. This situation is one of great injustice, as the problem cannot be the fault of these countries alone.

The truth is that the xenophobic responses to the refugee crisis from some European governments are shameful. We are not only denying the multi-cultural and multi-religious legacy of Europe, but also international law that requires countries to protect and home refugees regardless of their religious beliefs. We have legal obligations to them, but also ethical ones. They are our people. This is everyone´s problem. We are one single species sharing our profoundly interconnected world, and humans, all humans, are our people. And when the oppressed and marginalized die because they are oppressed and marginalized, the powerful are at fault. In fact, one of the reasons we are in this situation to begin with, is that for too long we have labored under the delusion that regional crises have no global importance. Imagining any widespread human problem as belonging to someone else is catastrophically misguided. As we have learned too painfully, the war in Ukraine is not only a Ukrainian problem.

It is our problem; we have to solve it and the solution involves applying the principle of solidarity. In 2016, the European Commission presented a responsibility-sharing solution: 1) calculate a refugee limit for each country based on its wealth and population; 2) introduce a correction mechanism, so that whenever a country reaches its limit, refugees can be automatically rerouted to other countries; 3) create homogeneous asylum rules in order to avoid refugees all wanting to go to the country with the most favourable rules. The solution is far from perfect or simple, but it prepares Europe for future refugee crises. However, unfortunately, the 27 cannot agree on this matter. When it comes to human hearts seeking a safe place to live, negotiations should not have other interests that override the protection of human life.

We have a legal and moral obligation to provide safe harbor for all who seek it. We have made several promises, but the hardest work is not making the promise, it is keeping it. The world needs to come together and act as a united front. But instead, it has become more divided. We can handle this crisis in a human way if we want to. We are writing history right now. Do we want to be remembered as the ones who deprived millions of desperate human beings of their freedom?

With the terrible situation in Ukraine, the European response was totally different. We have seen a unity never seen before in the face of a migratory crisis and I only hope that the position of various countries will remain like this from now on. War is once again knocking on the doors of the Old Continent, and we are witnessing a profound change of paradigm in European defence and security.

The European community has shown unequalled unity in the face of this catastrophe and the days ahead look bleak. More than ever, the peoples of Europe must show that they have not forgotten what sacrifices had to be made to achieve the values that prevail today in our unique, imaginary community.

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