By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 May, 2014
Only 10 EU member states responded to UNHCR appeal on behalf of Syrian refugees.
In a special issue of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice’s Working Notes, published to coincide with the elections for a new European Parliament, Eugene Quinn criticises the fact that in the face of the Syrian crisis, Europe has provided humanitarian aid but has been less willing to admit refugees.
In response to an appeal from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees asking the EU to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees as part of a resettlement programme, only ten EU member states responded.
In total, a commitment was given to accept around 12,000 refugees. Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 member states pledged fewer than 3,000 places.
“The European Union must assume its fair share of the task of providing refuge to vulnerable migrants – that is, a share that is commensurate with its position of being one of the wealthiest parts of the world,” Eugene Quinn writes.
“At present, it is poorer countries which, despite their lack of resources, are taking on a major role in trying to meet the needs of those forced to flee their own countries.”
In the journal’s lead article, Eugene Quinn and David Moriarty, also of JRS Ireland argue that the response to forced migration “gives rise to fundamental questions” about the nature of the EU.
It also begs questions about the “values it purports to uphold, and whether the commitment to justice and solidarity extends beyond rhetoric to concrete action.”
The two writers suggest that the EU must meet three key challenges in relation to forced migration.
These are ensuring adequate protection of migrants and asylum seekers at external EU borders; ensuring that consistent and just asylum structures are in place across member states and making a real commitment to admitting significant numbers of refugees under resettlement programmes.
This issue of Working Notes is devoted to consideration of some key issues facing the EU in the context of the election of a new European Parliament in May 2014 and the coming into office of a new European Commission in October 2014.
Articles deal with a range of specific topics and draw attention to an underlying unease and uncertainty regarding the future of the EU, and a growing concern that the social dimension of the European project has come to be largely overshadowed by economic considerations.
The Editorial points out that ultimately the policies adopted over the next five years, the lifetime of the new European Parliament and new European Commission, will have to be judged on the extent to which they reflect or ignore the core values which inspired the foundation of the EU, values such as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and solidarity.
As the contributors show, the policies of the five years of the new parliament’s lifetime will be shaped by the necessity to continue the slow and complex process of dealing with the underlying problems that came to the surface as a result of the financial crisis, including the design flaws in the euro, the on-going debt problems of many member states, and the banking crisis.
There has also been a decline in public trust and confidence in ‘the European project’ in parallel with a general decline in trust in politics and politicians at national level and this is likely to find expression in a marked increase in the number of members of the European Parliament who are ‘sceptical’ of the current model of integration.
Several contributors draw attention to the reality of the economic and social inequality that exists not just within but between member states of the EU.
Unemployment figures and rates of poverty and deprivation for the EU as a whole conceal the sharp differences between the better-off and the poorer countries.
Economic and social disparities between member states have, of course, widened and deepened as a result of the differential impact which the economic crisis has had across Europe, and of the particular problems faced by the weaker euro zone members, bound by the rigidities of a single currency.
In this context, several contributors highlight the fact that, as the process of economic integration and liberalisation of markets has gathered momentum over the last two decades, the ‘social dimension’ of the EU has been increasingly overshadowed.
In place of the dream of the earlier days of the European project that the social wing could develop at the same pace as the economic wing is the reality that ‘the social’ is increasingly seen as an instrument of ‘the economic’.
One contributor, Denis Clerc, writes: “… it is no longer ‘in the final analysis’ that economic considerations are decisive but ‘in the first analysis’.’’
The opening article highlights the fact that, despite its economic difficulties, Europe is still seen as a land of hope by people living in countries – often near neighbours – which are beset by extreme poverty, lack of opportunity and, frequently, political oppression.
As a result, thousands of people attempt to enter the EU each year to claim asylum or become migrant workers.
The article draws attention to the practical and ethical questions with which the EU is confronted as it responds to those who arrive at its borders, often having made life-endangering journeys.
In essence, the authors question how well the EU is balancing its legitimate right to control entry to its territory with the requirements of justice, the protection of human life, and respect for the internationally established right to claim asylum.
They also highlight the reality that there are significant differences between member states in their policies and practices regarding the processing of claims for asylum – differences which in some cases reflect the difficult economic circumstances facing particular countries.
Clearly, there is a long way to go before the EU has in place asylum systems that are fair, prompt and reflect common standards for all member states.
For more reading on this: http://www.workingnotes.ie/index.php/item/forced-migration-a-challenge-for-european-solidarity