A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Thanos DokosDirector general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)
At first glance, Europe appears to have forgotten about its own share of responsibility for several conflicts in its periphery, its humanitarian values, and the cardinal rule of solidarity among the union’s members in cases of emergency.
Europe appears to have forgotten the cardinal rule of solidarity.Tweet This
In the refugee crisis, the EU was forced to take into consideration several stark realities: its inability to influence geopolitical developments in and around Syria, the prospect of greater migration flows and the EU’s limited capacity or willingness for absorption, and the EU’s inadequate ability to efficiently protect its external borders. These shortcomings coincided with strong Euroskeptic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic sentiments in several EU member states at a time of a broader leadership deficit across Europe. In addition, the EU faced the difficulty of integrating young Muslims into European societies already facing radicalization challenges.
These factors resulted in more pragmatic but often cruel policies toward the refugee problem. The EU was forced to make concessions to Turkey, a country that plays a critical role in Europe’s migration crisis but whose commitment to democratic values and respect for human rights has been gradually declining during the last few years.
The key questions now are whether Europe’s choices—as usual in the logic of the lowest common denominator—will prove at least moderately effective and whether the concept of common European policies on burden sharing and problem-solving will remain pertinent in the future.
Patrick KingsleyMigration correspondent for the Guardian and author of The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis
On April 4, the EU began enacting its deportation deal with the Turkish government. Under the agreement, almost all asylum seekers who land in Greece will likely be deported back to Turkey. European politicians paint this deal as one that actually helps refugees. First, the argument goes, refugees will no longer have any incentive to risk their lives crossing the Aegean Sea. Second, for every Syrian returned to Turkey, another will be airlifted to freedom in Europe.
Very few Syrians will benefit from the EU's one-in-one-out deal.Tweet This
This argument is duplicitous and self-serving. In reality, very few Syrians will benefit from the one-in-one-out deal. The rest will be left in penury in Turkey—some of them at the risk of refoulement, or pushback, to Syria, and most of them without genuine access to legal work. For the Afghans, Iraqis, and other nationalities returned to Turkish soil, conditions are even worse.
The EU-Turkey deal won’t end people smuggling, either. The history of migration shows that when one route closes, another one usually opens up. People’s lives are simply put at risk in a new and different way.
But it’s not just Europe that is turning its back on refugees—so too is the United States. This may have been framed as a European crisis, but it has been exacerbated by the U.S. failure to resettle meaningful numbers of Syrian refugees.
Stratos PourzitakisPhD candidate at the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, under the scholarship of the EU Academic Program in Hong Kong
Sitting on top of Mount Olympus, Zeus should feel largely displeased watching the EU being divided amid the unfolding refugee crisis. Whereas the response of the EU’s executive branch has been in line with the union’s profile as a normative power, the EU member states have turned their backs on refugees.
The EU member states have turned their backs on #refugees.Tweet This
Since early 2015, the European Commission has put forward a comprehensive package of proposals aimed at alleviating the pressure on the most affected member states while addressing the root causes of the crisis and respecting the fundamental right to asylum. The response of the member states, however, has been starkly disappointing. As national leaders have found themselves trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma, it comes as no surprise that populism and national interests have prevailed over a coherent EU response. Sadly, the securitization of the crisis and unilateral actions from EU governments have impeded any viable strategy.
The result of this buck-passing has been the March 2016 EU-Turkey refugee plan, which rests on politically shaky ground and is legally contested. Once again, the EU response has been largely reactive, seeking not a long-standing solution but merely the lowest common denominator among its members.
Jonathan PrenticeDirector of the London Office and senior advocacy adviser of International Crisis Group
Many outside the old continent view Europe’s reaction to the migration crisis as hysterical, as much of the globe has had to deal with worse crises for far longer. A humbler and more generous European approach is in order.
Many view Europe's reaction to the #migrationcrisis as hysterical.Tweet This
The refugees represent not a security crisis for Europe but a humanitarian tragedy born of wars. The spike in refugee numbers coincides with a rise in deadly conflicts for the first time in a generation. Europe needs to recognize this more directly and work to end today’s wars while tackling drivers of conflict to come.
The specious alignment of security concerns with discussion of refugee flows is not helpful. The former is a matter for law enforcement, the latter a question of international obligation. Failure to do right by refugees will not benefit Europe’s security, will undermine the continent’s values and rule of law, and will ultimately prove futile.
Even if conflict ends, mass movement will not. Growing economic inequity, dramatic demographic trends, oppression, and state failure make it increasingly complex to determine who is a migrant and who a refugee. The answer is not to blur one into the other but to uphold legal obligations to refugees while better managing the pathways of migrants, for their benefit and that of states of origin and destination.
Erika SolomonMiddle East correspondent for the Financial Times
It may take time to see how faithfully Europe and Turkey implement the refugee exchange to which they agreed on March 18, and whether the deal can hold. But regardless of whether Europe has turned its back or not, perceptions may matter more than reality. Many refugees will see this agreement as a door slammed in their face.
Many refugees will see the #EUTurkeyDeal as a door slammed in their face.Tweet This
For Syrians especially, this is not just about those risking their lives on the Mediterranean. They see Western governments trying to force a political deal that may not solve the bloodshed spurring refugees to flee but rather may paper over it to convince warring parties to fight the self-styled Islamic State instead. They believe this agreement comes only after Europe suffered the types of violence many Syrians face daily.
Europeans may understandably think that at least Syrians can go to Turkey, a comparatively safe space. But all Syria’s neighbors have effectively closed their borders. Partly due to European pressure, Turkey earlier cracked down on its porous borders, which are now treacherous and pricey crossing points. Groups like Amnesty International say Turkey is even deporting people back to Syria.
This will likely play into refugees’ perception that as Europe turns away, the rest of the world can as well. The question Europe should be asking itself is what the cost of this perception is.
Ulrich SpeckSenior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy
Europe as a whole has turned its back on refugees from the Levant since the beginning. With the exception of France, Europe has largely ignored the current wars in Syria and Iraq. These conflicts have never been high on the agendas of most European media or foreign ministries. There is very little reporting, especially about the atrocities committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As a consequence, there has been little solidarity with the victims of the Syrian war. Many Western newspapers and leaders still call the refugees migrants, ignoring the fact that they are fleeing from warfare that deliberately targets civilians.
Europe has largely ignored the current wars in #Syria and #Iraq.Tweet This
At the same time, Europe is suffering a deep identity crisis. The optimistic view that open borders and joint European governance are the ways to a more secure and prosperous future is under attack from populists. Foreigners are increasingly seen as a threat, not as an opportunity or a gain. Terrorism led by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is reinforcing this xenophobic narrative, probably intentionally.
Many center-right and center-left governments have reacted in a defensive way, ready to sacrifice at least some of Europe’s achievements in a bid to stay in power. These leaders need to rediscover the values, principles, and interests that are at the core of the European project and make a public case for openness and cosmopolitanism—and for helping the refugees from the war zone in the Levant. If they fail to do so, a fine system of governance that has ended centuries of distrust and hostility in Europe will come under existential threat.
Judith SunderlandActing deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch
Yes. Razor-wire fences along borders and around detention centers, thousands of asylum seekers and migrants stranded in Athens and at the Greek-Macedonian border, stony-faced guards escorting people back to an uncertain fate in Turkey: these are the testaments to Europe’s abdication of responsibility amid a global displacement crisis.
Europe has abdicated responsibility amid a global displacement crisis.Tweet This
How did Europe get to this point? Since 1999, the EU has moved toward a common European asylum system with binding laws and standards that, if applied fully, would ensure consistent procedures, decent reception conditions, and integration of recognized refugees. Not a perfect system, and imperfectly applied, but solidly grounded in international law and a recognition of the right to asylum.
But mishandling of the large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers entering Europe since 2014, combined with fears of terrorism and the loss of cultural identity, has emboldened the far right and pushed EU leaders toward policy responses that will only make things worse.
EU countries should share responsibility for asylum seekers more equitably and demonstrate solidarity with refugees by creating safe and legal channels into the EU based on the right to seek asylum rather than as part of a deal narrowly constructed to stop their irregular arrival.
Özgür ÜnlühisarcıklıDirector of the Ankara Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States
It would be unfair to say that the EU is turning its back on refugees when the foreign-born population residing in the EU is 7 percent of the total. Moreover, EU member states are doing a much better job than other countries in terms of providing refugees with economic and social opportunities. That is part of the reason why many refugees want to make it to the EU, no matter how perilous a journey this may be.
It would be unfair to say the EU is turning its back on #refugees.Tweet This
However, it is obvious that as public opinion is turning against immigration, EU member states are trying to limit the number of refugees they will have to accept in the future and bring some sort of order and predictability to the chaos that is the refugee crisis.
Less understandable are the EU’s efforts to prevent the spillover effects of the crisis in Europe’s neighborhoods and the EU’s insufficient action on eliminating the root causes of immigration. Unless these root causes are eliminated, future migration flows into Europe can be postponed but not prevented.
Maha YahyaActing director of the Carnegie Middle East Center
Europe is turning its back on its own values and the principles enshrined in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was established to protect those who had fled the horrors of World War II. By forcing migrants who reach Greece’s shores to return to Turkey, the current EU-Turkey deal challenges the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, or the prohibition of forced repatriation, enshrined in that convention.
Europe is turning its back on its own values and UN principles.Tweet This
Syrian refugees have nowhere else to go. Two of Syria’s neighboring countries, Lebanon and Jordan, are already overwhelmed—Lebanon alone has absorbed 1.1 million refugees, roughly the same number that arrived in Europe in 2015. In Turkey, thousands live in dire conditions and are unable to scrape a living. Options for refugees from other nationalities such as the Hazaras of Afghanistan or the Balochis of Pakistan, many of whom are fleeing targeted persecution in their own countries, are also limited.
Shutting down borders will likely fuel smuggling networks and human trafficking, as desperation drives the millions left behind to seek other routes into Europe—including the more treacherous trip across the central Mediterranean. For Europe, this will mean faceless individuals flowing into its territory, undetected and vulnerable to exploitation and possible recruitment by rogue entities.
Addressing the challenges of mass refugee flows requires a just political settlement to the Syrian conflict. Meanwhile, legalized and organized migration routes are the principal form of protection that can be offered to refugees desperate for their lives.