Exchange to change February 2016 - Page 8

have ‘invested’ 4 years in someone just to send him or her away as soon as that person gains socio-economic independence.” The lack of a cohesive response from the EU is partly a legacy of the Cold War era in which the European framework for handling refugees evolved. At that time, the concept of “refugee” was understood as referring to the trickle of people crossing the Iron Curtain, a far different situation from the waves of refugees that much poorer regions have dealt with continually over the last century. Vandevoordt said that scholars have been arguing for decades that there is a need to harmonize asylum procedures and law across the EU: “It is reasonable to say that Merkel’s ‘Wir schaffen das’ [‘We can handle this’] would indeed have been viable for the EU as a whole, if there had been a fair and well-coordinated response to the asylum crisis at the European level. The EU can manage these levels of influx of refugees. However, at the moment there is a race to the bottom going on with individual member states trying to minimize refugees’ rights to discourage them to come to that particular state.” Publicpolitical campaigns announcing the degeneration of refugee right s are, according to Vandevoordt, primarily meant to discourage asylum seekers from coming to that country, rather than as actual policy measures. Getting to the root conditions But Gilbert cautioned that even if wealthy countries were to take greater responsibility for hosting refugees and asylum seekers, the underlying factors behind displacement and migration require action to be taken by the international community. “I dislike the term ‘root causes’. I prefer to think of root conditions, of triggers and drivers,” he explained. “Drivers are the underlying conditions that make people want to leave, the trigger is what makes people say ‘Yes, we’ve got to go now’.” Viewed this way, the importance of seeking long-term solutions to the plight of refugees and displaced people is not simply a matter of providing immediate humanitarian assistance; it also means addressing the various factors driving conflict itself. “Protection of refugees and solutions for refugees are closely connected, you cannot separate the humanitarian response, i.e. what you need when the refugee movement starts, from seeking a long term solution, i.e. a development response.” Conflict resolution and the restoration of peace and stability must be a priority on the international agenda. Gilbert stressed that access to resources is often at the heart of these conflicts, even those that superficially coalesce around questions of faith or ethnicity: “By and large they’re not fighting about faith, they’re fighting about control of territory— and what that territory gives them.” Resources can be commercial—oil, coal, diamonds—but they can also be more elemental to human survival, i.e. access to water and arable land. He expressed hope that the recent Paris talks on climate change and the UN’s newly implemented Sustainable Development Goals will address the question of resource distribution, eliminating the sharp divide between global North and South and giving rise to a more stable world. These measures, however, are not sufficient to tackle the issue of unfair resource distribution within states, which Gilbert argues is equally pressing. He offered the example of Boko Haram in Nigeria, which has flourished in no small part due to the failure of the Nigerian government to adequately redistribute wealth up to the impoverished north of the country. It is no coincidence that Boko Haram is strongest in the north, where disaffected youth are more easily seduced by the militant group. A Human Rights Approach In acknowledgement of both the global dimension of the crisis and the failure of EU policies to cope adequately with its effects, a human rights approach may be the optimal framework to ensure that refugees receive fair and adequate assistance. “International human rights law applies to everyone within the territory and jurisdiction of a state,” explained Gilbert. “If you are in a country of protection that has ratified human rights treaties, those treaties apply to you as a displaced person or refugee as much as they do to the local population. Human rights treaties are not for citizens, they’re for everyone within a state’s jurisdiction.” The 28 EU member states on average host 2.1 refugees per 1,000 citizens (mid-2015). Distribution across the 28 EU member states of the 626,700 asylum requests that were registered in the EU between January and July 2015 (in %) Other countries Hungary Germany Belgium UK Sweden 8 Italy France Austria