European countries have accepted up to 10% of the total 160,000 refugees that were estimated to be moved from unhygienic and overcrowded camps in Italy and Greece, being Malta and Finland the only ones meeting refugee relocation obligations.
This means that countries have only accomplished 8% of pledged refugee resettlements. More precisely, 13,546 relocations have been carried out so far, 3,936 coming from Italy and 9,610 from Greece. The European Commission warns that it will admit “no more excuses”.
While countries such as Hungary, Austria and Poland refused to participate in the European resettlement plan, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and many other are carrying it out on a “very limited basis”.
Meanwhile, the European Commission insisted that the treaty between the European Union and Turkey is working fine a year after its ratification. Crossings from Turkey to Greece have decreased from 10,000 people in a single day to 43 per day currently, with overall entrances going down by 98%.
Last Monday 193 world leaders gathered in the United Nations Headquarters to approve the New York Declaration aimed at providing a more coordinated and humane response to the current refugee crisis. It was the first summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are now more than 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million migrants who have been forced to flee due to armed conflict or in search of a better life.
The new declaration seeks to standardize responses to refugee situations and provide better education prospects for refugee children. It also aims to improve their working opportunities outside their countries of origin. Furthermore, plans for a campaign to combat xenophobia are considered.
The New York Declaration on Migrants and Refugees may be seen as a document which contains no concrete commitments and is not legally binding, but it expands the concept of refugee response beyond humanitarian aid in order to include matters like education and job opportunities.
Back on Tuesday, the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to shut the entrance of migrants fleeing from war into the EU. The deal that will be concreted over the next ten days can alter the crisis because it would mean closing up the biggest channel of immigration from the Middle East. However, Europe is willing to pay a large sum of money for it to happen.
For each Syrian sent back to Turkey from the Greek islands the EU would have to accept one directly from the Turkish refugee camps. However, it is not such a fair deal because, on the one hand, the EU is effectively discouraging migrants from crossing the Aegean by raising the standards to qualify for their relocation programs (only Syrians can), and , on the second hand, even Syrians who arrive to the shores and are sent to Turkey could be blacklisted.
Even before the deal was signed some countries had already announced that they were closing their borders or at least controlling more closely who enters through them. Serbia will only allow in those with valid documentation to travel in Europe because we, Europeans, “need to protect ourselves”.
The UN and activist groups are calling this deal “illegal” and a blow to refugees’ rights.
After the Paris attacks of last weekend many countries have not lost time pronouncing themselves about the so called Islamic State. Some countries have only publically condemned the ISIS, however, some others such as France and Russia have joined to attack Syria and ISIS bases. The response to the Paris attacks can also be seen in new, worrying reactions to the refugees’ issue. In Europe, a number of governments who had already been taking steps to fortify borders with fences are now bound to reject the European Union’s plan to distribute refugees on an equitable basis. In the same way, several US have forbidden the entrance of refugees inside their borders for “the protection of their citizens”. Confusing the refugees with terrorists and scorning them is not only morally wrong and would betray our much championed values and principles, but would undoubtedly strengthen ISIS themselves.
Earlier last week the UN General Assembly had a meeting and it seemed the long-expected environment for America and Russia to discuss what the best course of action in Syria could be. But even though nothing was settled in these discussions Russia decided to strike the country by air on Wednesday. Russia’s intervention is aimed to defeat ISIS and reduce the flow of refugees to Europe. However US officials affirm that so far they did not seem to be aiming at territory under IS control. Furthermore they announced that they had only been informed about the attack an hour before it took place. The US welcomed this military action but only as long as it is directed against IS and al-Qaeda like groups.
Four years after the start of the Syrian civil war, more than 200,000 people have died in the cross fire, and it is estimated that there are at least 7.6 million displaced people. Countries like Lebanon, Iraq or Turkey have been taking in refugees from the war inside their borders. The EU, faced with the rapidly expanding tragedy, though slow to react, is gradually increasing the trains to bring refugees into countries like Germany or Austria. However some states are still reticent about giving asylum to refugees arguing that jihadists might go through their borders claiming to be refugees. Some others have completely closed their borders to them, endangering the EU borderless Schengen agreement.