The European answer to the refugee crisis: Lessons from history

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The European Union faces nowadays the biggest challenge since its foundation, the refugee crisis, which has several, inter-related implications: large-scale arrivals of asylum-seekers to our continent, fragmentation of the Schengen area, the jihadist terrorism threat, wars and high instability in neighbouring countries and a weak socioeconomic situation created by the long economic crisis. Thousands of people have died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach the "European dream", and those who manage to arrive to our coasts (mainly through Italy and Greece) are caught and kept in camps under indecent and cruel conditions. The images that we see from Idomeni or Moira are just inhuman, and also especially worrying is the growth of racism and xenophobia in some EU countries. Many European citizens have blamed the European Institutions for their lack of effectiveness to face this enormous challenge. Nevertheless, the truth is that it has been basically the majority of the States - not the EU itself - that have blocked the solution to this crisis with their inaction, lack of solidarity and weak commitment to implementing the system of quotas to relocate the refugees who have arrived in Europe. 

The numbers of this unfulfilment are atrocious. After the several European Councils celebrated during the last months to deal with this issue, the EU got the commitment of its 28 member States to resettle 22,500 refugees from Turkey and to relocate 2,000 from Greece and 1,500 from Italy (pretty ridiculous figures if we consider the number of people fleeing death from countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on). However, as of today only 5,600 refugees have been resettled from Turkey and only 1,145 relocated from Greece and Italy. And even worse, they have not been distributed equally and proportionally among the States. While in 2015 Sweden received 80,000 refugees and Germany almost one million, Spain is one of the countries that has received fewer refugees: in total, only 18. And this is a great shame for its citizens, who have always showed a great value of solidarity and generosity towards the refugees fleeing from violence. It was the case in the nineties with the Balkans war, when Spain admitted 2,500 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Barcelona made Sarajevo its 11th district through a specific mechanism of cooperation among the two cities that allowed dozens of families to start a new and safe life. 

Barcelona and many local entities of Catalonia have claimed their availability to take a significant number of refugees in and to show real solidarity, contrary to the Government of Mariano Rajoy. There is a plan with two phases to organise their arrival in Catalonia, and to integrate them in the different cities of our country. Barcelona is ready to show again its solidarity with the Syrian refugees as it did before with the Bosnians, or also as the Mexicans did with the Catalans after the Spanish Civil War. We are an open and tolerant country, and we cannot accept that Europe and its Member States won't rise to this historic challenge with dignity and humanity. Not only because it is an imperative moral do so, but also because we need them to make our societies economically and culturally richer, as we could learn from other episodes of our history.  

 

Laura Ballarín Cereza

Adviser on Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament and Vice-president of the Catalan European Movement (CCME)

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