'Failed' EU Refugee Summit Results in Aid Pledge — and Little Else
'What was needed was a bold, ambitious new approach. But what we got was the continuation of a failed strategy.'
As the continent faces what one humanitarian organization has dubbed "a social, economic, and political crisis of immense proportions," European heads of government agreed Thursday to pledge at least €1.1 billion to help refugees, but failed to come up with a comprehensive strategy to stem a growing disaster.
The Guardian reports: "The emergency Brussels summit decided little but to throw money at aid agencies and transit countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees and to step up the identification and finger-printing of refugees in Italy and Greece by November."
In a parallel decision earlier in the week, European governments forced through a deal to impose refugee quotas, sharing 120,000 people between them in a controversial decision that several states bitterly opposed.
"Seldom had EU leaders met so divided," wrote Guardian journalist Ian Traynor. "And seldom have the stakes been higher in the need to forge common positions to cope with the crisis and to limit the damage from months of blame games. The main aim was to cool tempers and try to strike a consensus on what to do. The results were inconclusive and the same issues will dominate yet another summit in three weeks."
Of this week's outcomes, the UN refugee agency offered a measured response, hailing the aid pledge while saying it was "disappointed that, notwithstanding relocation, no further measures have been proposed to create more legal pathways for refugees to reach safety in Europe." This would include enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian and student visas.
"It is an important step toward stabilizing the crisis," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Thursday, "but much more needs to be done."
"What was needed was a bold, ambitious new approach," added John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe director. "But what we got was the continuation of a failed strategy."
The proposed €1 billion for refugee hosting countries is positive but beyond this, the commitments disappoint. EU leaders should have been agreeing on how to ensure safe and legal routes for refugees into Europe and fixing Europe’s failing asylum system.
Instead, the focus of the proposals on keeping refugees out ignores the realities of a global refugee crisis and states’ obligations to provide protection to those unable to find it elsewhere.
The relocation figures agreed on Tuesday won’t significantly relieve the pressure on frontline states and without much more concrete and immediate assistance to these countries, the chaotic and tragic scenes we have witnessed in recent weeks will only continue and likely worsen.
On Twitter, British journalist Daniel Trilling contributed to the chorus, outlining what critics had hoped to see come out of the summit:
Aid for the refugee camps is necessary but it's not a substitute for safe and legal routes to asylum and a resettlement scheme.
— Daniel Trilling (@trillingual) September 24, 2015
In a statement on Wednesday, the humanitarian group Caritas Europe charged that "[y]ears of austerity measures focused on dismantling welfare states across Europe have led Member States to a level of incapacity to absorb and respond to the relatively low amount of people who are arriving to Europe."
"We think that the current obstacle is the lack of political will to review the ongoing economic paradigm and to change tack on austerity," the statement read. "Without austerity, European Member States would probably respond differently to this crisis."
Observers have also cautioned that European leaders' failure to agree on common policies could have harmful consequences that span borders and governments.
Earlier this week, journalist Yiannis Baboulias warned at the Guardian: "The lack of a coherent strategy and astonishing deficit of leadership we are witnessing from EU politicians on how to deal with the refugee crisis across the continent is playing right [into] the hands of the far-right."