By Richard Spoelstra and Bob van Soolingen
It is one of the hottest topics at this moment, what to do with the refugees that come from the Middle East. In this small opinion article, Bob and I will debate some of the suggestions offered by different political parties. The opinions given here are not necessarily those of the Secjure or of the authors but rather to serve as a way to provoke debate.
There are two points that I wish to discuss in this brief opinion article, one about the massive refugee stream moving from Hungary to Austria, Germany and Sweden. The second being the problem that occurs when these refugees remain in Europe for too long.
Under article 1(A)(1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention jo article 1(2) of the 1967 Protocol any person who has a fear of persecution for arbitrary reasons such as race, religion etc. and is unable or unwilling because of that fear and cannot be protected by his home country can be considered a refugee. This we owe to the universal rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People from the Middle East that come here from Libya because of all the turmoil that is currently happening can be considered refugees under this article. As such, these people should be afforded the full protection of the convention. However, another article that needs to be taken into account is article 31 of the convention. This article states that countries shall not impose penalties, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence. Based on this it can be said that while refugees that make the hazardous journey to come to the shores of Europe should be afforded the protection of the convention, those that consequently attempt to enter other countries such as the people staying in Calais, or those moving to Germany and Sweden because it is easier to be granted asylum should not. The refugee status is not an excuse to seek economic fortitude in Europe; It is one that is necessary to prevent gross human rights violations. Once refugees reach a place where they are no longer in immediate danger, by arriving in Turkey, Hungary, or Greece, they should stay there so that those countries can help them with their asylum status. It is therefore my opinion that those refugees that consequently travel further should be sent back to the country they first entered, which is also in accordance with the Dublin Convention.[i]It must however be said that these countries should be given financial and material assistance to deal with the massive amount of refugees to enable them to help the refugees as humanely as possible.
Yet the conflict in the Middle East is one that has been lasting for decades, and one that will most likely last for decades more. With over 500.000 refugees having reached the shores of Europe in the past one and a half years this is a situation that is not manageable.[ii] These half a million people, based on current conditions, cannot stay in the countries they arrive. Not in the least, because the conflict in the Middle East is not going to end soon and more refugees are hoping to reach the shores of Europe.[iii] What we subsequently want to do is spread them across Europe. A good idea in theory, a bad idea in practice. With a conflict that is going to last for years these people will need jobs, something that we are struggling with. These people have or will get children that have a right to education. These things are laid down in the Convention on the Status of Refugees. However, once this conflict has resided in a decade or so, they will have to go home. There was a case in Holland a few years ago about an Angolan refugee named Mauro, an 18 year old who had to be send back to Angola because it was save to go home. Small fact though, Mauro had been living in the Netherlands for 9 years, half of his life. He could no longer be considered to come from Angola, he was a Dutch citizen who spoke the language and went to school here. Yet eventually it was decided that he was allowed to remain in the Netherlands using a student visa. This is just one single case, but it is not inconceivable that those other 500.000 refugees that have arrived, and the many more that will follow, will face similar scenarios. We simply do not have the room for those refugees to stay here because in ten years new conflicts are going to arise and the refugees that result from those conflicts are going to be needing shelter something that we cannot provide if refugees that are granted asylum here do not go home when it is save to do so. It is because of this that we are wary to invite refugees into Europe. We want to help them, I honestly believe we do, but we also want to help refugees in ten years, yet when refugees stay in Europe after the conflict is over it fuels the fire of the people that want to close our borders. In my opinion, the suggestions offered by numerous politicians such as Sybrand Buma of the CDA, and even by the European Parliament and the UN, to establish safe havens in the conflict regions would prove to be more useful and more manageable.[iv] By establishing refugee camps in the regions, a number of benefits can be realised. The first and perhaps the most important, no longer do refugees have to make the hazardous journey towards Europe. Second the refugees will be able to keep their culture, teach their believes and live their lives in a way which somewhat resembles the one they were used to before the wars. These refugees will then no longer be subject to immense culture shocks and once the conflicts are over, they can subsequently return to their own country and resume their lives.
Richard brings forward some interesting arguments that could also be heard in the General Political Viewings on Prinsjesdag. I in my turn want to explain why these ‘safe havens’ are not the Egg of Columbus in this immensely complex discussion. First of all I too want to stress that this article is not necessarily an expression of my personal opinion, but a means to initiate a discussion. It is a matter for which there is no simple answer and all proposed solutions have their pros and cons. I would like to show why shelter in the region for the refugees cannot be the only solution and why the European countries should bear the responsibility to help.
The stream of refugees is the biggest in the world since the Second World War and it is clear that the current refugee policies in Europe are being tested heavily. Richard states that the states where these refugees arrive (at the southern and eastern border of Europe), should process them as they are obliged to do under the Dublin Convention. There surely is a good reason for installing the Dublin Convention, but right now it must be set aside. These states cannot cope with the stream of refugees. To take Greece as an example: 205,000 refugees have arrived in Greece this year, of which about half on the island of Lesbos. This state has experienced a per-capita income drop of 23% since the beginning of the crisis, is going through a tough economical and financial crisis and has an unemployment rate of 25%[v]. How can the other European states expect Greece to sort its own business like this? In the spirit of the Convention on the Status of Refugees and Union solidarity, other member states should allow refugees to travel inside the Union to help both the refugees and the southern and eastern European Union states that are collapsing under the incoming refugees. One only has to watch the news, to see under what terrible circumstances the refugees have to live.
Some European states have set the Dublin Convention aside and welcome refugees that have entered the Schengen zone from the southern or eastern border, but even this is no solid solution. Germany was one of the states that decided to welcome refugees, but after a short while it closed its borders because of the uncontrollable stream of refugees that came its way.
Based on this situation, the Dutch government designed a plan to keep the refugees in the region, by safeguarding proper shelter over there. Indeed, like Richard already mentioned, this has some advantages. People will be discouraged to risk the dangerous trip to Europe and it could prevent culture shocks in some cases, certainly, but is shelter in the region the best solution? Yes, it prevents such atrocities, but shelter in the region has its own set of disadvantages, that should also be taken into consideration.
Firstly, a publication by Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, an official partner of the Dutch government on the subject of refugees[vi], shows that 90% of the refugees from Syria already finds refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In a comment of Jasper Kuijpers, deputy director of Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, he describes how this leads to problems for these countries. Lebanon has offered shelter to 1.2 million on a population of 4 million and both financially and practically Lebanon cannot welcome any more refugees. It cannot offer the required shelter or food, let alone the education for children seeking refuge. These are all basic requirements, stated in the Convention relating the Status of Refugees. The same problems are occurring in Turkey (1.7 million Syrian refugees) and Jordan (650.000 refugees). We cannot demand these states to accept even more refugees.
Yes, there are other neighbouring countries that could welcome refugees, for instance Saudi-Arabia. We should certainly try to negotiate to see which role they could play in the crisis. Something we should keep in mind is that Saudi-Arabia (and most other Middle-Eastern states) are not a party to the Convention on the Status of Refugees[vii]. This means they are not bound by the same international rules as the Netherlands and 144 other member states to this convention. In negotiating with these states on whether they can play a role, we must not forget that refugees in these countries will not enjoy the same principles as in the states that are party to the convention.
Lastly I would like to refer to an example from the past. In 1993 the UN wanted to create safe zones for Muslims in Bosnia. All six of these safe havens were attacked by the Serbs. In the Netherlands we are most familiar with the most dramatic example: Srebrenica. Although designed as a safe zone for Muslims in Bosnia, it soon became the place from where thousands of innocent men, women and children were deported to be killed[iix]. I am not saying that this would certainly happen when installing safe zones in this situation, but it does show that refugees flee a certain part of the world with a reason. If they could find proper shelter closer to home, they would do this, because of the same reasons on safe havens in the region Richard gives.
The situation is extremely complex and there is no ideal solution, all options have their pros and cons. As a Western, European Union state we should not try to escape our international legal and moral obligations to help, by saying that the victims should be helped in their own region.
One thing is for sure: the current situation is unmanageable and leads to atrocities that we should not accept in the twenty-first century.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas, or would you like to comment on this article: use the comment section!
[i] The Dublin convention was established to prevent people from seeking asylum in multiple countries and to establish as quickly as possible the responsible country that needs to help the refugee. (found at <http://www.ecre.org/topics/areas-of-work/protection-in-europe/10-dublin-regulation.html>).
[ii] Martinez, Things to know about Europe’s migrant crisis at land and sea. (found at < http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/28/world/things-to-know-europe-migrant-crisis-worlds-deadliest-border/>).
[iii] Over half the Syrian population is displaced. (found at <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/11/world/syria-refugee-crisis-when-war-displaces-half-a-country/>)
[iv] Sybrand Buma on safe havens (found at < http://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/buma-wil-nederlandse-grondtroepen-in-syrie~a4133253/>).
[v] UNHCR Operational Report on Greece – August 2015 (found at http://www.unhcr.gr/fileadmin/Greece/Extras/Arrivals/operational/Greece_Operational_Update___2.pdf>)
[vi] Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, Vluchtelingen in cijfers, found at <http://www.vluchtelingenwerk.nl/sites/public/Vluchtelingenwerk/Cijfers/VLUCHTELINGEN%20IN%20GETALLEN%202015%20definitiefst%20OO%2002092015.pdf>
[vii] UNHCR, State Parties tot he 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, found at <http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b73b0d63.pdf>
[iix] Bosnian Institute, Prelude to the Srebrenica Genocide, found at <http://www.bosnia.org.uk/news/news_body.cfm?newsid=2771>