Radical resolutions for Europe's 2017 refugee policy
The year 2016 is coming to a close with the highest ever annual death toll for refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to find safety and freedom.
More than 5,000 people - an average of 14 every day, quadruple the percentage in 2015 - lost their lives over the last 12 months.
And while the number of people who made it to Europe dropped dramatically - from over a million to 360,000 - it was largely for the wrong reason - transferring the challenge posed by the unprecedented refugee wave to another country, Turkey.
The deal struck between the European Union and Turkey in March is a classic example of playing a "shell game" - with the refugees treated as game pieces for which there is no benefit.
As we head into 2017, here are a few resolutions that European nations, other major world powers and international bodies could sign on to that would actually improve the humanitarian situation of refugees, not just hide them further from our view:
- Recognise that selling or otherwise providing arms to parties engaged in conflict or oppression will only escalate or reinforce such behavior. Instead, we must work to demilitarise all sides that seek to tip the scales in favor of a particular agenda.
- Anticipate refugees and agree to share the burden before intervening in any violent conflict, natural disaster or oppressive regime. World leaders from the United States, to Germany, to the UK called the influx of Syrian refugees "unexpected," but it should not have been. The Syrian unrest is as much a proxy as a civil war.
So here is a radical idea: Any time a country (or one of its corporations) sells or provides arms - or sends military or intelligence advisors - to a party to a conflict, a specified percentage of its defense budget or profit must be allocated to refugee support, including resettlement. It's time to start planning for refugees' needs upfront, rather than stall and deny later.
- Challenge the assumption that walls are smart foreign policy, much less a moral one. Walls are blunt instruments that cost millions of dollars and separate families, but don’t ultimately stem the migration impulse or eliminate the cause of conflict; rather, they are merely a way to postpone making larger, more difficult, but necessary, policy decisions. Take Israel for instance.
|Walls are blunt instruments that cost millions of dollars and separate families, but don't ultimately stem the migration impulse|
Rather than try to forge lasting peace with Palestinians, including an official, mutually acceptable border, the Israeli government is constructing a combination wall-fence around and into Palestinian-occupied territories.
And while it may have produced short-term benefits for Israelis, it has exacerbated the injustice for Palestinians - fueling political unrest and humanitarian needs, and contributing to a new wave of violence in the region.
- Supplement Frontex with safe routes. Despite the European Union's increased spending on military border patrols, enough people are desperate enough to attempt the sea crossing despite the dangers - leading to the growing death toll.
Frontex, the European agency charged with securing the union's borders, should be supplemented by legal, safe migration routes with orderly screening and temporary living facilities for the migrants. If you can't quell the desire for a better life, at least make the journey safe.
(And while we're at it, why not invest more in measures to make life more tolerable elsewhere - and revoke our support of despots?)
- Counter fears and negative portrayals of refugees with positive reality. With each new report of an attack launched by a person of Middle Eastern descent or a member of the Muslim faith, reactionary politicians and demagogues stoke latent xenophobia.
We respond on the defensive - promising higher walls, more security restrictions, less of a welcome. However, the facts speak to the folly of this: According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, about 120 million people living in OECD countries were born elsewhere and one person out of five is either a migrant or was born to a migrant parent.
|Let's dedicate 2017 to a smarter, more humane response to this fact of modern existence|
More than four million new permanent migrants settled in OECD countries each year on average over the past decade. And a wealth of OECD data shows that in both the medium and longer term, the effects of migration on public finance, economic growth and the labour market are positive overall.
It is time we stop responding to attacks with knee-jerk moves to slam the door shut; instead, we should trumpet just as loudly the many positive examples of the contribution of refugees and migrants, and look for the most humane way to offer safety and support for their families, while simultaneously bringing order to chaos.
- Embrace the fact that the world is a village. If countries adjacent to a nexus of conflict, such as Lebanon or Kenya, receive a massive influx of refugees, we have an obligation to help. If we do not partner with them to navigate the political and economic ramifications, the chaos will be infectious, as we have already seen.
Refugees are not numbers. They are not fires to be stamped out. They are people who can contribute - or not. Our choice. Let's dedicate 2017 to a smarter, more humane response to this fact of modern existence.
Pam Bailey is international secretary for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and founder/director of We Are Not Numbers, a storytelling project for refugee youth.
Follow her on Twitter: @WeAreNotNumbers and @PamInProgress
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.