The migrant crisis – Juncker speech found lacking


Sudhanshu S Singh

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, made an emphatic speech in the European Parliament on 9 September 2015, in the backdrop of the growing migrant crisis. The speech was analytical and critical but also indicative of a roadmap for the European countries to deal with the growing crisis with utmost humanity. Some of his statements were impressive.

He said, “We need more Europe in our asylum policy, more union in refugee policy. Solidarity needs to be permanently anchored,” and “We are talking about human beings, not numbers.” These statements reflect the current sentiments of European Union nations and their intent to help the desperate people, who take perilous risks to reach the shores of EU countries.

Juncker further said, “We are an ageing continent in demographic decline and will need talent from everywhere in the world.”

While saying this, perhaps he was unaware that those entering through Greece and Hungary don’t want to stay there. They want to reach France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other affluent economies, as their immediate priority is not to contribute in the weaker economies but to get protection from already robust economies. Demographic adjustment, through granting asylum, however imperative that maybe, can not be considered a prudent option to address the problem of ageing population.

The nature of a society evolves over a period of time. A sudden demographic change is likely to create more tensions. This was articulated by Florian Philippot, French representative to the EU Parliament, who said, “We’ve got a flow of Islamists. I’m really worried.” This statement raises another serious issue facing those European countries, which are the preferred target of asylum seekers.

An analysis of the speech and the ensuing debate , gives the indication that the discourse is still far from the real problem. That it still revolves around treating the symptoms and shifting the goalposts than seeking permanent solutions. Guy Verhofstadt, President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, summarised it effectively, “The heart of the problem is lack of political will and unity.”

Yes, the EU doesn’t merely need political will and unity to grant asylum to all seekers. That is the humanitarian imperative and must be done, but it needs will and unity to seek solution of the real problem, that is the protracted crisis of the Middle East. The EU is a powerful block – financially and politically – with two of its members being permanent Security Council members. Yet, it has failed to put pressure on warring parties in Iraq and Syria or over the Security Council for an effective international response to end the conflict.

While the debate on asylum is peaking, war crimes, equally perpetuated by state and non-state actors are also on increase thereby causing more displacement. That is not only happening in Iraq and Syria but also in Turkey, which is currently hosting approximately two million Syrian refugees. Within Turkey, attacks on Kurds have been on rise, and the local Kurds of south-eastern Turkey and refugees are facing increasing violence, including lynchings, from local mobs and police alike.

Additionally, Turkey has also deployed its forces in northern Iraq to resume its battle against Kurdish rebels, which was in abeyance since 2011. It is ironic that Turkey, as a NATO ally, is part of the US-led coalition fight against ISIS, but at the same time is attacking Kurdish fighters who have been most effectively fighting against the ISIS and holding them on. It is the Kurds who have done much of the fighting against ISIS in Syria and in northern Iraq. However, the Turkish government prefers Kurds to remain weaker and vulnerable, as it keeps the Kurd movement weaker within the Turkish boundary, trying for autonomous region for Kurds.

This war has apparently been waged to reign-in rebels of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP) that has killed 31 Turkish soldiers and police recently. It is ironic that while allowing its land to be used against the war on Islamic state, Turkey’s primary target remains the KWP, which has been fighting for decades for Kurdish autonomy. The Turkish president perceives Islamic State a lesser threat than KWP. By deploying the forces against Kurdish rebels, the Turkish government couldn’t have helped ISIS more.

In such a scenario, an imminent solution is unlikely. So far, the war has displaced nine million people. While six million remain internally displaced, three million Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. So far, over 250,000 refugees have migrated to European countries seeking asylum and 850,000 more are willing to migrate.

Is Europe prepared to accommodate all of them? Perhaps not, despite the niceties shown by Juncker in his speech. Denmark has already started closing its entry routes to prevent an influx of migrants. It has also amended its asylum policy to make it less lucrative for asylum seekers. Resistance and violent attacks on refugee shelters have been reported from other EU countries too. This is not the situation that the migrants expected before setting off on their journey.

Given that, it is important for the European bloc to focus on the real solution, i.e. trying to resolve the conflict. Permanent solution for refugees is not to grant them asylum but to end the factors causing their displacement. The need of the hour is to first identify the underlying causes of the conflict, identify all those hidden actors abetting the war crime and advocate and lobby for an effective international response, keeping people in the centre, not the vested interest of political groups. The European bloc should solidly be behind the Geneva Communique , which recommends formation of a Transitional Governing Body in Syria. This body should be the reference point for all discourses, and that should be aggressively pursued by the European parliament.

Perhaps this is also the right time to go for Security Council reform, particularly in the midst of recent reports that Russian troops have been seen in the war zones of Syria. If the Security Council has failed to resolve major conflicts facing the world, then it should be reformed and expanded to dilute the current centrality of power, which is helping more in abetting conflicts than abating them.

NOTE: Views expressed are the author’s own. Janta Ka Reporter does not endorse any of the views, facts, incidents mentioned in this piece.