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Europe can do more to protect refugees

03 September 2015

For many years European countries have been warned about the inadequacy of their immigration and asylum systems. Now, with increased refugee arrivals and more frequent tragedies, this system is showing all its weaknesses, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks said in a written statement.

But refugee arrivals are not the real cause of this collapse. The real reason is political.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a little more than 430,000 asylum applications have been lodged in the European Union member states since January. 40% of them have been received by Germany alone, while Hungary has taken 1 out of 4 of the remaining ones. This means that 26 EU countries are dealing with just over 180,000 asylum applications, an effort which is all but epic.

Even including the almost 300,000 people who arrived in Italy and Greece since January — mostly Syrians who will be granted asylum — we are still far from experiencing the real refugee arrival pressure faced by much less rich and stable countries like Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia, or, without looking too far, Turkey, home to some 2 million Syrian refugees.

With a steep increase in asylum applications and little if any help from fellow EU countries, Bulgaria and Hungary have made the bad choice of sealing off their borders. This is certainly not the right answer to those who seek international protection. But the inconvenient political truth is that this comes also as the result of an EU asylum system which penalises countries placed at the border of Europe.

The real problem is not the arrival of refugees, but this desultory, almost hysterical response to it. More than a refugee crisis, this is a political one, where States demand less Europe, when in reality we need more. To save a Europe of solidarity and human rights, we must rethink its approach to migration.

Adapted from the Council of Europe website

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