According to the Greek mythology, the European continent derives its name from a Phoenician woman abducted by the Greek god Zeus, who was forced to come from Lebanon to Greece. That is to say, the name of Europe was from the very beginning closely interwoven with openness towards otherness, becoming a symbol of tolerance and of respect of human dignity. Ironically, in our times, the mere idea of Europe is deeply challenged by the refugee crisis, because of our striking failure to address effectively the humanitarian challenges being posed, share the responsibility and protect our values.
Regarding migration and asylum issue, our first task is always to protect human life. But many have already lost it. At the same time, Europe must respond to its moral and legal obligation to provide safe access, protection and asylum to all those escaping war, dictatorship, persecution – including the one based on gender, sexual orientation and racial or religious identity – and to all those whose lives are in danger. Europe must act under the spirit of solidarity and promote a fair distribution of responsibilities. We want to tackle the causes of immigration and improve the security and quality of life in origin or transit countries of migrants, by supporting countries, promoting peace, democracy as well as social and economic development. We also need to combat the criminal trafficking networks fed by the trade of human hope.
Greece has experienced an unprecedented pressure. It is obvious that the “optimistic” goal for a 70,000 asylum seekers relocation is just a pain-killer. At the same time, there is a huge controversy: while the relocation and resettlement criteria direct refugees to countries of high rates of population, GDP growth and effective asylum applications and low unemployment rates, the vast majority of refugees arrives – and stays trapped- to the country with the most striking difficulties in all the above fields. More than 50, 000 refugees in Greece right now remain under an administrative detention regime. Without being able to go to other European countries and with no immediate prospect of readmission to Turkey. Without any provision and possibility for quick review of asylum applications, subsidiary protection or humanitarian protection status. We wonder whether a regime of administrative detention is the future we envisage for Europe…Worse of all, more than 5,000 refugees were drowned, suffocated or crushed while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas in 2016, making it the deadliest year on record.
As PES Activists Greece, having participated in several forums and discussions concerning the Refugees Issue, but most importantly having volunteered to numerous grassroots actions, having travelled to hotspots and camps all around Greece and having approached and assisted in practice many refugees who shared their experience, fears and hopes with us, we know that Europe’s response is far from sufficient. Instead of “business as usual”, we a revolutionary approach and a holistic action plan to:
1. Protect Human Lives and support Human Rights in countries of origin
2. Adopt a new progressive European policy on Immigration and Asylum and
3. Undertake progressive initiatives in Greece and Europe to cope with the Crisis always based on our core Values as Socialists and Democrats.
We can make it happen, but for this we must focus our policies in 4 main pillars:
1. Changing Philosophy
Humans after All – Conservative Europe is facing refugees as dangerous goods. Even people who are entitled to the right of asylum and risk the lives of their children in their routes to Europe fleeing war or HR deficits, under the EU Turkey Treaty are allowed to be returned back. What message is passed about refugees when we are returning them back? We need another philosophy that will pass a positive message to local communities for refugees. After all, refugees are humans in danger and humans are wealth for the local communities and not goods “to be returned”.
Globalize not Externalize
EU Turkey Treaty and the Malta Declaration aim to externalize the Refugees Issue both based on the philosophy that refugees are not welcome in our Union trapping them into unsafe countries. In contrast to this philosophy, the European Union of Human Rights and Solidarity must take initiatives in order to globalize the refugee issue aiming to offer a better life for refugees and their families away from their unsafe countries, in Europe and/or in another countries that respect human rights.
Regions Are the Cell – Our Union must invest more in Regions making them privileged interlocutor in our common try to face refugees issue with solidarity respecting the values of plurality and diversity. States have been proven incompetent and politically irresponsible to manage the issue. Regions though can better interact with their people and can better work, under an EU umbrella, in order to integrate refugees and set up permanent mechanisms to absorb the consequences of a world that is moving and will keep on moving the years to come, a mechanism that will not only protect the local culture but also that will aim to progress through interculturalism. (eg Mayor and residents of Barcelona ask for more refugees while the conservative Spanish government is unwilling even to accept country’s quotas. Such bottlenecks can be avoided if we invest more directly in Regions.)
Cooperating – The refugee issue as all major issues requires a global approach, requires global solutions. We desperately need to avoid the so called OHIO syndrome (“Own House In Order”). No one can make it by its own in this interconnected world. For this reason, diplomacy and cooperation shall be the cornerstone of the European philosophy for crisis management. In particular, the refugee issue must be jointly managed by the EU, UN, NATO. We need a strong tripartite cooperation. Furthermore we believe in the need to strengthen the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership with the African Union and the Arab League in security policy, in economic and trade cooperation, in social, cultural and humanitarian areas.
2. A progressive asylum policy
Fair Share Benefit (not burden) – Nor Dublin II is working neither the relocation program. Common European policy is all but common, as it is up to the states to implement it arbitrarily. Some countries suffer more being isolated and unable to cope with disproportionately numbers of refugees. Several local communities want to stand by refugees but they are unable. We believe that there is a need for those who are entitled to asylum to be allocated proportionally to all Union States or Regions on criteria such as GDP, population and the need for labor force, or parameters such as social housing. We believe in the need to provide incentives to the states or – preferably – directly to the Regions to accept the refugees. We believe in diplomacy, we believe that we must emphasize the benefits of pluralism in order to encourage local communities to ask for more refugees, to welcome them.
EU Embassies – European Union, in co-operation with international organizations, should set up “EU embassies” in third countries neighboring or with safe access from those countries of mass migration. In EU embassies, Refugees should be able to apply for asylum or “humanitarian visas” without having to pass the unsafe routes (such as the Aegean Sea) to reach a States asylum office. EU embassies should directly relocate a refugee safely and legally to one of the States or to send them in a safe third country following a new philosophy of Global cooperation.
Safe Harbor Initiative – Given that Europe has hundreds of harbors and that Greece and Italy have hundreds of ships and very active coastal navigation lines, it would be possible within a few weeks to record and transfer hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, through sea, in many other European countries, with fair – balanced routes, with coastal transportation subsidized by EU. Europe should create legal sea routes, directly to all EU harbors from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where there will be “EU embassies” or just hotspots. In this way, we will manage to smash smugglers networks, saving millions of internationally protected persons and especially childeren. Moreover, cooperation with UN and asylum institutions is of utmost importance in order to accomplish the aforementioned objective and make the “Safe Harbour Initiative” work.
A common EU Organisation for CEAP Application – For a common European issue, the solution cannot be national! The common European policy also requires common implementation, and to do so, it would be useful for all asylum procedures and structures to be organized and implemented by a common European agency. A European organization with super-state responsibilities responsible for the construction and observance of hygiene standards in reception centers, asylum, research and rescue and distribution of refugees in the Union. Funding should be provided directly from a European fund to be set up and to which all countries will contribute proportionally!
3. Protecting Human Life and Human Rights
Safe and Legal Paths – Safe and Legal paths of migration for people coming from countries with a high probability of an asylum application to be accepted
Search and Rescue Operations – Union’s first concern should be to save the lives that are endangered every day in the Mediterranean and other unsafe routes. For this reason, funds for research and rescue should be increased (instead of being reduced!!) targeting mainly the most deadly routes.
EU Missions 4 Peace – The Union should undertake peace initiatives with diplomacy and initiatives to redress deficits and inequalities in the countries of origin of migrants.
EU Missions 4 Human Rights – It is crucial to cooperate with NGOs, with political and social organizations in the refugee source countries or in countries with a high probability of being the source of refugee flows in the near future in order to improve living conditions and protect the human rights. We need to invest more in Human Rights in third countries.
UniVEST – Education against Immigration – Most refugees that are fleeing the conflict in Syria are, educationally, the flowers of their country. We, the PES Activists, cannot stand to see flowers withering. We are ready to take action and work together with progressive parties and citizens! We ask from the European Union in collaboration with EU universities to undertake gender balanced mobility programs for young refugees or/and citizens coming from countries with high possibility of their citizens to be granted asylum and to offer them scholarships in order to be able to come safely and legally to study in our Union and acquire skills that help them to be involved in rebuilding their own countries and their own societies. We may also expand Erasmus Program in that respect. Scholarships should cover tuition fees, travel expenses and the cost of decent living in the reception countries. One position in each one of the higher education Institutions of the EU means 3300 young refugees per year should be offered a chance for a new life but also the educational background to rebuild their home countries the day after the conflicts. But it means also something more. It means that they will also become our culture ambassadors that they will play a key role in the near future for the establishment of core values of the Union, like peace and democracy, in their home countries and they will be a permanent link of the Union and third countries.
The right for Progress – Everyone has the right to progress. Every child has the right to evolve, right to a better world. We must ensure decent living conditions in each hosting center, ensure that all children go to school, we must invest in integration, in training programs, in languages learning in training and specialization programs for refugees. We must invest in teaching our culture (eg we should expand our culture cheque proposal also to refugees)
4. Initiative for Greece and the internal management of each country
Fair Share in Regions – The Greek government urgently calls for the fair distribution of immigrants throughout the European territory and rightly, but does not do the same within the Greek territory that has the ultimate responsibility. We believe in the need for irregular immigrants to share fairly in all regions until their asylum application be examined. By this way, the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea and the center of Athens will be decongesting and part of the responsibility will be shared across Greece. We believe in Solidarity not in ala cart solidarity.
Efficient Management – The Greek Government case is an illustrative example of management failures and disorganisation: No single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps. Thousands of migrants are still being held in makeshift tent camps, with several being covered in snow till recently, sparking emergency measures from Greek authorities aiming to find safer accommodation in empty hotels or on a navy ship (!!).
Immigration Gardens – Immigrants are carriers of a different culture, they have special knowledge, and we have a lot as a society to learn and teach them. A network of voluntary organizations should be established at the initiative of the government in order to undertake, in cooperation with municipalities, programs of integration. Personalized support for women and young children and people with special needs who need special treatment should be offered.
Human + – We recommend the creation of a HUMAN + program with a view to speeding up asylum requests for immigrants, which will of course require mainly seasonal, as well as the improvement of reception and accommodation conditions for migrants to meet hygiene conditions to provide health care and to meet basic human needs.
Regions As Managers – Regions and municipalities should take on the role of coordinator of hosting and integration programs in each region. Their interconnection with the local population is direct, they know well the advantages and disadvantages of each region. They know with which group of locals and how they have to work. Citizens can also easily control them.
Houses instead of Camps – Camps are not the solution. Refugees should be distributed in houses in order them to become members of a neighborhood. We do not need more Callais. We need inclusive societies and refugees ready to interact with the local communities. We want to see refugees’ children playing with our children because after all they are going to live together in this big neighborhood, in our world. Isolation cultivate hatred, togetherness cultivate hope!
NGOs collaboration With Local Societies – NGOs working in local societies should collaborate more with them. Funding to NGOs should only be offered if they hire local population if they buy supplies from the local market. It is not about the money. It is about interaction between refugees NGOs and local communities. Locals become part of the solution.
The role of Turkish Regime – It’s time to face the reality: The Turkish Regime (since we can no longer talk about a normal Government) is abusing the refugee issue to demand geopolitical returns. Even worse, it is risking people’s lives in order to blackmail and threaten the EU. Recently, in the context of the 8 Turkish asylum seekers and the respective extradition request, Erdogan openly threatened Greece that he will unilaterally cancel the EU – Turkey Treaty only for Greece and send to Greek islands millions of refugees in a week! Similar threats were also directed to Germany and Netherlands, but it shall not be forgotten that Greece will carry a huge humanitarian burden alone in such a dramatic but possible scenario. In any case, it’s time to show our determination to support Rule of Law, human rights and Democracy, making clear to the Turkish Regime that EU solidarity is not in question, are values are not negotiable and the EU cannot be threatened. To make this happen, we need a viable plan B right now!
The way the refugee crisis is managed till now proves the inadequacy of “national agendas” to effectively deal with a complex global issue and concomitantly challenges the institutional structure of the EU, the functionality of the intergovernmental method and the level of the European integration. The major European decisions are still national and therefore insufficient. The EU, namely the bigger states, moved in the EU-Turkey agreement towards accepting the agenda and priorities of the Visegrad countries, which is in no case a progressive agenda.
The negative side-effects of the lack of a European-wide solution both for refugees and countries of first arrival, especially Greece, are self-evident, amongst which the fragmentation of the economic aid, lack of legitimacy, accountability and of central planning, fueling a non-stop blame game between EU and member States. The situation gets even more complicated, with populists exploitating the terrorist threat blindly against refugees and migrants.
Paradoxically enough, Greece right now is practically excluded from the EU Area. On the one hand, there is a EU area including Skopje (FYROM) and a common Greece-Turkish area on the other hand, being used as an “immigration parking”.
The mainstream “European” stance till now was: “You deal with it, we just help and provide money”. Τhis is not progressive, this is not European, this is neither social nor democracy.
A progressive solution is a truly integrated European solution. Social Democracy is at the end of the day about bringing people together and protecting human dignity.