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UN official: ‘There is no military solution’ for flood of refugees

The crisis warrants new policies to organize the flow of people, but anti-refugee talk blocks action, says a UN official
25 August, 2015

Up to 3,000 people are projected to cross Macedonian borders per day this year, prompting the United Nations refugee agency to once again urge the European Union to develop a comprehensive immigration strategy.

“The political situation regarding migration and migration policies in the EU is completely out of control,” said Crepeau, who is a law professor at McGill University. “At the moment the debate is driven by fantasies and myths: ‘Migrants take jobs, change our values; we’re overcrowded.’”

The war in Syria has caused the largest refugee crisis since World War I. While the comparison has prompted some introspection in destination countries — in 1914, at the beginning of the war, thousands of Belgians crossed the Dutch border to settle in Roosendaal, a village of less than 19,000 people at the time, Flemish newspaper De Standaard reported — EU policymakers are loathe to tackle the problem collectively.

This year, a record number of 340,000 refugees have entered Europe so far, and about 2,373 people have died during Mediterranean Sea crossings or jumping on trains in France to reach Great Britain. Most are fleeing conflict zones in Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. But gruesome tales such as those of an Egyptian man who was electrocuted on a train’s roof in Paris’ Gard du Nord, a Sudanese man who was crushed by a truck, or hundreds of others who have lost limbs when trying to cross the Eurotunnel at night in Calais, a French port city, have not deterred newcomers, Crepeau said.

“They are coming and they will continue to come, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Crepeau added “There is no military solution” that would stop the smugglers paid by many refugees who want to enter Europe. “All we can do is organize the flow,” he said.

One way to do that would be to devise a resettlement program that would more fairly distribute the flow of refugees according to a quota system, Crepeau said. Up to two million refugees could be resettled over the course of the next five years. Now, most of the new arrivals are in Greece, Spain, Macedonia and Italy, and Germany has announced it planned to process more than 800,000 asylum applications this year.

But one such proposal sponsored by the European Commission to more fairly distribute the burden was tabled in June when only 10 out of 26 member countries expressed support, fearing a backlash from nationalist parties such as France’s National Front that campaigned on anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Mainstream parties don’t have the clout to make it happen,” Crepeau said.

Another proposal would have refugees submit asylum applications closer to their countries of origin — in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, for example, where three million Syrian refugees already live in camps — eliminating the need for dangerous travel across the Libyan desert, on the Mediterranean, or through the Eurotunnel, he said.

Such a solution would also help undercut human traffickers, who charge thousands of dollars for a ticket to Europe and a seat on rickety boats and rubber dinghies, said Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

“A whole generation of people are putting themselves in debt to be smuggled into Europe, only to be thrown out,” he said. “That is a really ridiculous transfer of wealth. … We can help people by giving them better options.”

For economic migrants, a system of stipends to establish a business in their country of origin could serve as an incentive for migrants willing to return, Doyle added.

For others, allocating work visas might be a way to temporarily find employment in Western economies, Crepeau said, adding the idea would warrant the eradication of underground labor markets, where undocumented migrants often find jobs.

But opposition to proposals facilitating immigration to the North is fierce. In Germany, where about 800,000 people are expected to request asylum this year — four times as many as in 2014 — police on Tuesday reported a suspected arson attack on a sports complex due to house about 100 refugees that went up in flames in Nauen, a town near Berlin. On Monday, another refugee shelter was burned down in Germany.

In Kos, a Greek island off the Turkish coast where thousands of refugees have entered, police forces resorted to using fire extinguishers and batons to herd a group of about 2,000 people in a concrete stadium, with no access to water or electricity.

In Hungary, where more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the border, authorities are building a fence to try and stop people from coming. The decision preceded a rush of refugees trying to cross its border Tuesday.

“If people want to come, let them come,” said Crepeau, “but we need to organize it.”

Article written by Lisa De Bode for Al Jazeera.

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