From Vita International correspondent in Amsterdam.
Nearly a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, 3,600 died trying, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the mass influx. “We took big boats and set off. We called them explorers, conquerors. Now, again people are taking to open water – we call them refugees, migrants, scroungers. Why don’t we call them people? Why don’t we call them families? says Lyse Doucet, Canadian journalist and BBC Chief International Correspondent, at the Opening Plenary of the 2016 EFC AGA and Conference.
Two days after Greek authorities have begun clearing Europe's largest refugee camp at Idomeni, just south of the border with Macedonia, around 600 key figures from the world of philanthropy were present at the EFC's three-day conference in the Amsterdam to discuss how to alleviate the refugee crisis and other worldwide challenges. Because despite numerous meetings, and summits, Europe is still searching for a solution to the biggest threat to its survival.
Doucet, who has been reporting on refugees around the world for decades, also stressed the importance of finding new ways of working together in the direction to give people decent lives, because the current system of refugee protection is simply not working. “The refugee crisis is a test in a time when we live in the best of times and the worst of times... These are times that can bring out the best in us or the worst”, she added.
We can’t live in a society where sharing is not the rule
Overcoming differences of interests and viewpoints is one of the hallmarks of the EU’s success stories over past decades. Why did the EU find so difficult to come up with a common response? The answer is the enormous political sensitivity of the issue. “Europeans were opening their homes to people while some countries began closing their borders”, said Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director for Human Rights Watch. He also pointed out that even if the 2015 refugees levels maintained in Europe, they would still only represent 0.4% of population by the end of 2017, that’s one out of 250 people. The real refugees crisis is in the region surrounding Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the three countries that accounted for nearly 90% of arrivals in Greece at the height of the crisis last year. In Lebanon, for example, one out of four people is a refugee, a Syrian refugee. Some 60 million people across the world are currently displaced or seeking refuge, a level of displacement not seen since World War II.
Yet, referring to the EU’s deal with Turkey, to stop the flow of refugees into Greece, he emphasised that is not likely to work: Europe cannot outsource its responsibilities. The European Union's Schengen Zone, allowing freedom of movement between member states, is in ruin, as refugees find themselves stuck in no-man's land.
We took big boats and set off. We called them explorers, conquerors. Now, again people are taking to open water – we call them refugees, migrants, scroungers. Why don’t we call them people? Why don’t we call them families?
So what role can foundations play in addressing this profound crisis? According to Bouckaert, foundations could help by promoting a unified system for asylum management in Europe. “The Dublin system is outdated and unfair, and it must be replaced with a new system that shares responsibility more fairly”. Second, it is necessary to make more efforts to support the integration of newcomers in the receiving societies. Finally, foundations could play a crucial role to raise awareness that refugees arriving in Europe are only a symptom of a much more profound crisis in a Middle East destabilized by horrific and unending conflicts, and parts of Africa increasingly devastated by climate change, misgovernment, and corruptionare.
“Around 130 million people are currently displaced around the world”, Kristalina Georgieva told the Conference. At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the Commission’s vice president in charge of budget issues, launched the “Grand Bargain” designed to help tackle the funding gap in humanitarian action, estimated to be US$15 billion. Georgieva has listed three areas of change necessary to addressing the immigration crisis: create one asylum system for Europe that will provide better access to the asylum procedure for those who seek protection; establish The European Border and Coast Guard to ensure a strong and shared management of the external, as well as “to ease the anxiety of those who, out of fear, would turn to populism”; and to meet the needs of the people that are left behind.
The European Commission expects the arrival of another 3 million migrants in Europe by 2017. “A massive influx that shows how the refugees crisis came upon us like a slow motion tsunami. We stood and stared and hoped it would pass. It didn't”, she concluded.