Dan Kitwood

EU’s inadequate answer to the refugee crisis

28 January Jan 2016 1702 28 January 2016
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Examining the human rights situation in over 90 countries, Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2016 denounces the EU's incapability to offer an adequate answer to the refugee crisis

The European Union has faced many difficulties in setting an adequate answer, inspired by humanitarian principles, to the arrival of a million asylum seekers and migrants coming to Europe by sea, said Human Rights Watch in their newly released World Report 2016.

The New York-based ngo examines the developments in 10 Member States of the EU, and in the EU as a whole, as concerns migration and asylum, discrimination, intolerance and counter terrorism, a particularly worrying issue in view of the Paris attacks.

During the course of the year, EU governments have answered in an incoherent and unsupportive way to the arrival of a million people, turning a manageable crisis into an open political crisis, said Benjamin Ward, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director Europe and Central Asia division.

“The price of a divided European Union has been paid by asylum seekers and migrants in Greece and along the Western Balkan route”.

In 2016 World Report (659 pages), this year in its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch examines the situation of human rights in more than 90 countries.

In his introductory essay, executive director Kenneth Roth explains how the spreading of terroristic attacks beyond the Middle East, together with huge refugee fluxes caused by repression and conflicts, have led many governments to adopt wrong measures, such as limitation of rights, in an attempt to protect their own security. At the same time, repression of independent groups by authoritative regimes all over the world, scared by pacific dissent, which is often amplified by social media, has registered the highest levels in the last few years.

World Report 2016

In 2015, short sighted interests of national governments have too often prevented to carry out effective answers to the refugee crisis, delaying the protection and the welcoming of vulnerable people, despite the generous answer of a bunch of governments, among which Germany and Sweden.

EU governments have reached an agreement to increase the resettling of refugees coming from outside the EU and to transfer 160,000 asylum seekers who have reached Greece and Italy.

However, up until the 8th of January 2016, only 272 asylum seekers have been transferred, and only 82 of them are from Greece, the border State of the EU that had experienced the largest flow.

The European Commission has acted against 23 Member States due to their lack of respect for common asylum system parameters in the EU.

Among these States there is Hungary, that has answered to the great number of arrivals by building fencing, criminalising and arresting asylum seekers who have crossed the border without permission.

EU governments have repeatedly tried to discharge their responsibility on countries outside the EU, as in the case of the complicated migration agreement with Turkey, which dates back to last November. Turkey is the main country of transit towards the EU for asylum seekers and migrants. It already hosts over two million Syrians.

The identification, by the police, of asylum seekers among suspects for thefts and mass harassment during 2015 New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne and in other German cities, has strengthened the position of who asks for the closure of borders.

Those who are responsible for crimes will have to be accountable: nevertheless these horrible incidents can not justify the adoption of regressive refugee policies, according to Human Rights Watch.

Concerns on national security in the EU have also characterised 2015 as a year which started and concluded with multiple attacks in Paris by armed extremists.

November attacks in Paris, the most lethal in Europe in more than a decade, have brought to the adoption of emergency measures in France, to intensified controls at borders-even in Schengen, free movement area - and to bigger efforts in order to coordinate intelligence better.

During the year 2015, some EU governments played on people's fears regarding the link between internal terrorism and the return of “foreign fighters” linked to the extremist armed group of the Islamic State (also known as Isis) to justify wider and more invasive surveillance powers.

However, no causal link between an inadequate surveillance and the Paris attacks has been proven.

Others have used the November Paris attacks as a pretext to justify their reluctance in cooperating with the EU in sharing the responsibility of facing the refugee crisis, despite all attackers identified in Paris were European citizens.

Scarce signs of progress have been noticed regarding the verification of responsibility concerning European complicity in the abuses of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), despite penal investigations are underway in Poland and in the United Kingdom, and another inquiry has been re-opened in Lithuania.

The murder of four people in a kosher supermarket during January’s Paris attacks and the attack in February on the synagogue in Copenhagen, that caused two victims, show a wider and more serious problem of anti-Semitism in the EU. Hate crimes against Muslims have also created a serious problem, with peaks in the incidents that took place in France and Great Britain.

Cover photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images