Friday, February 19, 2016
Mr. Branislav Skripek MEP (ECR/Slovakia) opened the Roundtable by clearly admitting that so far politics had failed to produce a comprehensive or any other real workable solution for this crisis. He then went on to describe how the Slovakian government refused to give a place to more refugees. Finally he stressed the need to solve the crisis at the root of the problem which is primarily in Syria.
Mrs. Noemi Mena Montes (CPFE) presented a number of facts and data at European level and stressed the need to have an informed debate. She highlighted the paradox of EU asylum policy that offers protection without creating a route for it. She emphasized that the refugees are not numbers but people and that this is a humanitarian crisis, not only a political one. In this regard she referred to her own experiences with refugees in various countries, including Jordan and Lebanon. She introduced the NGOs and their key role in this refugee crisis.
After this introduction the NGO Panel of the Roundtable started with representatives of NGO’s along the refugee route.
Mrs. Anita Delhaas (fmr. Director Worldvision Lebanon) explained the situation in Lebanon where most refugees are women and children. The real issue is the fact that the most vulnerable are in the countries around Syria and this in still increasing numbers. There is an urgent need for much more support to Lebanon and Jordan. With regard to the situation in Lebanon, the non-camp policy of Lebanon is creating a crisis in a crisis as the depleted and very vulnerable refugees struggle to find a bit of shelter in increasingly dangerous circumstances. Sexual assault and exploitation of women and children is a regular reality. This can only change with major involvement from EU and UN.
Mrs. Voula Antwan (Bridges, Greece) emphasised the need to come to one EU refugee policy. Not having this is leading to a disaster for Greece and for Europe. This EU policy has to start at the root of the problems. Mrs. Antwan raised the issue of the ‘pull factor’ of opening the border between FYROM and Greece. The opening of this border created clearly an additional reason for refugees to come to Greece as they knew they had the opportunity to go to other EU countries via Greece. This border has to be closed again in order to stop this ‘pull factor’. Furthermore, Mrs. Antwan stressed the need of good integration and the gap between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East in terms of mentality difference.
Mr. Ivan Lalić (Mikser Refugee Aid Miksalište, Serbia) stressed the need for an EU refugee policy as well. He pointed to the need that the refugees have to get a much better understanding of the realities of life in Europe. He evaluated as very positive the role of Serbia and the NGO's during this refugee crisis, however there are some questions about how to deal with it in the long term. In that framework he mentioned the need for integration of refugees, co-operation on all European levels in this effort and with special attention to education.
Mr. Tassilo Graf Wolff-Metternich (Malteser Werke, Germany) described the situation as a clash between the EU and the principle of subsidiarity. In his opinion, Germany has indeed sufficient capacity to handle the first phase of providing shelter and handling the first steps for the stay of refugees in his country. However the challenge is really down the road where the local and other authorities will have to provide all the basic services such as education and healthcare. He explained the project of Malteser to integrate the refugees into the German society, he emphasised how important it is that they learn the language and the rights and duties of German citizens, therefore they have classes about the Constitution.
Mr. Notis Marias MEP (ECR, Greece) started with the important remark that Greece is an open society with a clear history of providing shelter for many refugees. However at the moment Greece is a country in bad economic conditions and much poverty. This new reality has severely limited the capacity of Greece to give a place to refugees.The critical question that needs to be raised is: ‘why Greece and not Bulgaria?’. The obvious reason is the fact that Greece is a Schengen country which works as a magnet for refugee streams as through this it becomes obviously much easier to go to other Schengen countries.The EU needs to realise that Turkey is deliberately using and steering the smugglers who traffic the refugees to Greece. Turkey can stop this if it wants to, but refuses to do so in order to have leverage over the EU. For this reason, the EU needs a much stronger Foreign Affairs policy and a coherent common asylum policy that includes a relocation mechanism. This combination should lead to a safe and legal route for refugees.
Mr. Ladislav Ilcic MP (Hrast, Croatia) raised the issue of Croatia being caught between countries who are all closing borders which creates a situation in which the refugees have to stay in Croatia. It should be obvious that it cannot be the case that one or two EU Member States have to bear the brunt of this situation. Therefore there is an urgent need of a coordinated answer to the refugee crisis. Also, he stressed that a solution at the source is crucial.
Mr. Arne Gericke MEP (ECR, Germany) reiterated the need for European solidarity. He widened the scope of the issue to the need for a comprehensive European strategy to provide solutions for global challenges. The focus at the Middle East may prevent us from seeing the needs in Africa. These needs may very well trigger a larger influx of refugees than now are coming from the Middle East. Furthermore he stressed the need to focus at the Christian refugees and provide help to them. Furthermore he emphasised the need for attention to proper integration and the stumbling blocks ahead due to differences in culture and religion in that regard.
During the Q&A, the representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church and the European Syriac Union presented their remarks as well.
His Eminence Athanasius (Representing the Greek Orthodox Church to the EU) put the focus at the cultural and religious divide. He stressed that if Europe was unable to return to its roots and find a new way to articulate its Christian heritage, it would face huge difficulties in the integration process. This found agreement under all present.
Mrs. Rima Tuzun (Representative European Syriac Union) stated that the prime need for the Syriac-Assyrian people and their allies was to receive the means for protection and humanitarian aid. This would prevent these people from leaving to Europe as it would enable them to stay.
The conclusions of the roundtable were listed at the end of the meeting and found approval by those present:
We need a common EU approach in both dealing with the refugee stream and its causes.
An active EU role in the issues of war and peace is needed. This is true for both Africa and the Middle-East and especially Syria. The EU needs to co-operate with the Democratic Self-Administration in Syria in that regard and not shy away to provide arms for the minorities.
The solution in the EU requires solidarity inside the EU. Aside from proper sheltering we need to take care that a safe and legal route is created for the most vulnerable.
The issue of integration is a serious challenge. The administrative and cultural capacity of the EU is and will be tested in that regard and all levels of government should not shy away from the cooperation with the Churches who already provide support. Christians / the church could play a key role in welcoming the refugees and in the integration process.
The UN and NGO’s need much more support from EU and EU Member States. The neighbor countries to war zones need a special economical support to take care of the refugees. Countries like Lebanon and Jordan should receive more support.