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David Cameron's refugee announcement is underpinned by a deep cynicism, which will damage attempts at a co-operative European solution

Category: Articles-General.
Posted: Saturday 05 Sep 2015

Claude Moraes MEP, Chair of the European Parliaments home affairs committee and the former Director of the refugee charity Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) explains why David Cameron's pledge of increased aid to Syria and the modest increase in refugee numbers to the UK is underpinned by cynicism and in the next few days will be seen to have damaged attempts to solve the refugee problems through EU co-operation.

The tragic pictures of Aylan Kurdi have had some effect, they have certainly changed the mood of the debate in the UK- how could they have not? For David Cameron, stung into action by public opinion including this newspaper, the British announcement to many seems a generous change in UK policy. The amount of aid is high - second only to the US. Yet not only has the Prime Minister's announcement been inadequate, it will in the coming days be seen to be deeply cynical and, it will also lead to damage some key critical decisions which EU Member States had to take together with the UK.

What David Cameron has done with the 600 million in aid is to match the generosity of donors such as Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In common with them, he has continued the UK's policy of giving aid generously to refugee camps while doing everything possible to avoid the tough decisions of emergency relocation and re-settlement of refugees. This policy of the UK is not new. In its most brutal form, the UK's legal opt out could be seen in its withdrawal from search and rescue in the Mediterranean where the UK withdrew support for Mare Nostrum and later under pressure re-instated HMS Bulwark which has itself now been retired. Yet Britain led the view in the EU that search and rescue would only "encourage" refugees - a view which has widely been a risible in relation to Mediterranean crossing. Like those small Middle-Eastern countries,  giving high amount of aid whilst avoiding actual refugee numbers has placed the UK in a club it should not be in. Germany while leading on refugee policy for Europe has itself given 204 million in aid. It is absolutely clear which direction the UK continues to move in.

So what is happening at EU level and where does the UK feature? The next two weeks in the European Union will be a critical period. Key discussions will take place next week in Strasbourg, followed by a crucial meeting of the Member States' Interior Ministers on the 14 September. If on this date the EU has not put together a significantly upgraded, strengthened and credible policy on search and rescue, reception centres, re-settlement, emergency relocation and possibly legal routes for asylum-seekers then we will know that we are failing Aylan Kurdi and all like him who have looked to neighbouring countries for refuge then looked to the European Union.

What will progress look like for the UK and EU if both are serious? For the UK it is with sorrow rather than anger that we already see a government being dragged into positive action by widening outrage but who's default position in the European Union is to operate on "opt-out" from all refugee and immigration policy. It is crucial that on September 14 the UK signals that it will "opt-in" to co-ordinate EU action for an organised and compassionate solution to the refugee crisis working with other EU countries in solidarity. Other countries who have an "opt out" such as Ireland have shown that it is possible to opt in as they are currently doing with search and rescue in the Mediterranean.

What the UK and EU need to be signing up to in the next two weeks is a significant shift from the weak and insignificant action called The "European agenda on migration" which was agreed before the summer and is now seen for what it is, a set of decent policies proposed by the European Commission but not taken seriously by the Member States of the EU. For example, the numbers spoken of in terms of resettlement for the whole of the EU (20,000) and currently being spoken of in terms of relocation (40,000) are utterly insignificant in relation to the problem. It is also difficult for the EU to look into the eyes of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (who have taken millions). While the UK gives development aid to Syria it is particularly culpable in the insignificant number of Syrian refugees it has resettled - the lowest in the EU up till now. Now that the EU and the world as a whole are watching, it would be particularly shameful for the UK to continue to "opt-out" from these issues. The UK wants to cherry pick refugees from camps but not touch refugees who have come to the shores of Europe. How can this be a sustainable position for a large EU Member State?

In addition to the measures agreed before in the European Agenda on Migration, there must be an understanding of the special nature of this crisis. We have some EU member states displaying actions which are deeply shaming for the EU and its values, in the light of recent events in Hungary and the Czech Republic, clear leadership must be taken by the big EU Member States to reassert moral authority and to wipe away the lame excuses peddled over issues such as the Dublin Convention, which along with many asylum directives, have not been operated properly by Member States for many years.  Hungary's insistence on operating the Dublin convention when Germany has relaxed it for the correct decent and compassionate reasons is where the European Union should be, not Where Viktor Orban's Hungary currently is. On September 14 it is time for a comprehensive plan to ensure that the scenes we see around Europe's borders are brought under control, but that behind this control are genuine policies to care for refugees, express solidarity between Member States, to implement policies dealing with the causes of the refugee flows, and yes while the compassion seems to be flowing to also think about legal routes and humanitarian visas for asylum seekers which would be one antidote to the growth in human trafficking and smuggling.

On September 14, the EU and now the UK has a moment in which to express its values, let us hope it makes the right decisions on refugees.  For once, the whole world will be watching.

 

Posted by: Admin on Saturday 05 Sep 2015

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