As the refugees and illegal migrants surge continues in Europe, debate is growing in the European Union about the lack of unified immigration policies and funding for migrant rescue operations. Some EU member states are calling for each state to accept a quota of illegal migrants, share the burden as it were. European foreign and defence ministers agreed in Brussels on May 18 to use naval forces to intercept and disrupt ships used by smugglers/ first phase of a military operation against people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Croatia has already committed one 50-crew ship towards the efforts of saving lives of illegal migrants/refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.
While the world marked the World Refugee Day on Saturday 20 June, two security and terrorism related important gatherings occurred in Bratislava, Slovakia, this weekend, starting Friday 19 June and they are the global security forum GLOBSEC 2015 and summit of Visegrad Four/ Visegrad 4 leaders.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic attended and was a panelist at the GLOBSEC forum – a platform for high-profile politicians, diplomats, business leaders, academics and think tank experts to share their opinions and perspectives regarding international peace and security. This year the discussed topics at various panels, plenary sessions and presentations included the situation in Ukraine and the crisis stemming from ISIS. Hence, European leaders tackled security challenges ranging from a resurgent Russia to global terrorism.
As to the summit of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four – Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, the attendees reached a joint position of rejection against the refugee quotas urged by the European Union as response to floods of illegal immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East inundate countries of EU especially Italy, Greece, Hungary… on a daily basis.
Just by watching daily news coverage it’s evident that the problem has reached catastrophic proportions and to any observing eye the influx resembles an aggressive invasion in which it is almost impossible to check for and isolate or sort out any possible terrorist cells, genuine refugees and illegal migrants.
“We reject the mandatory quotas because we believe that what the European Union proposes is contrary to the principle of voluntariness represented by the European Council”, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said. He added: they specifically focused on the grave extent to which Hungary is affected by the problem of illegal migration, and they agreed that everyone must take this special situation into consideration.
In 1991, the founders of the present-day Visegrad cooperation were aiming for the revival of this north-south corridor. Initially, they focused on clearing out the debris of the Communist dictatorships and consolidating the economies of the members. Later, when all four joined NATO and then the European Union, the scale of activity widened to include cooperation in international and security policies and the operation of the Schengen border control system.
A system of quotas will not solve the problem of illegal migration into the EU, said the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic to Croatian press, expressing her stand on the matter ahead of her attendance at the global security forum GLOBSEC 2015 in Bratislava, and that it was essential to act upon the real causes of that problem.
“Quotas are not the solution for the questions relating to refugees,” she said. “They can be a short-term solution but a solution must be all-encompassing…We need to be very careful about the message we are sending with that quota system. If we send the message to illegal migrants that they will eventually be able to remain in Europe, then we will perpetuate the problem and it will become worse and stronger… Within both the EU and UN we need to engage in solving the fundamental problems of why illegal migrants are coming, and that means the solving of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, but also battle against poverty and other reasons because of which people from North Africa and the Middle East are arriving as well as solving the problem of people smugglers.”
French President Francois Hollande said on Friday he thought commitments by individual EU member states offered a better way of resettling African and Middle Eastern migrants rather than the imposition of national quotas by Brussels.
“We need to address the reasons that have led to and that have caused the migration,” Hollande told a news conference after meeting the leaders of the Visegrad Group.
“I do not think (quotas) make any sense for migration. I do not think it is the right method,” he said, commenting on proposals from the executive European Commission on how to deal with the large numbers of migrants arriving in Europe.
“In the case of terrorism, they say that the rise of ISIL shows the dangers of getting involved so we should turn our backs on the Middle East. In the case of migrants being tricked and trafficked, they say this is something that should be managed rather than solved, so we should carry on allowing them to attempt this perilous crossing. I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And I am very clear about the principles that need to be applied,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the GLOBSEC 2015 conference.
There are those who criticise the emergence of “closed Europe” vis-à-vis the floods of people illegally approaching and crossing sovereign borders of countries; without a doubt there are those, including the UN Refugee Agency, who will criticise Hungary’s recent announcement to build a 174 kilometre long/ 4 meter high fence along the border with Serbia to stop tens of thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa crossing its borders annually and illegally via Serbia, which is not an EU member state. A question then pops into mind: should that fence be extended down along the border between Croatia and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina? Desperate refugees and illegal migrants will soon find an alternative route into EU if the Hungarian fence is built. How far does a country go in trying to stop the floods of illegal entries? Croatia is one country with relatively recently experienced desperation with refugees. During early 1990’s Serb aggression and ethnic cleansing had created floods of refugees and displaced people – over one million (in a country of 4.5 million!). Among these were Croatia’s own refugees and refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina; all non-Serb and mainly Croat and Muslim. A life lived in such conditions is indeed a life lived in crisis-mode! This crisis arises from the unknown and the insecure future and no human being is built to endure it for long without major unrest erupting.
Handling the problem in today’s Europe by allocating quotas to each country is not the way forward as a matter of policy because it does support the impression of accommodating illegal migrants on an ongoing basis. However, the illegal migrants and refugees awaiting refugee status processing must be fed, clothed – roof over their head, placed. That certainly is no easy task with diminishing and crumbling economies and “foreign aid purse”. Are the more affluent societies willing to shed worldly comforts and share with those less fortunate? Or are these floods and intensive movements of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East actually causing fears (real and pathological) of threats (if not attacks) to Christianity and Western values, the addressing of which may go beyond human compassion and empathy with the seemingly destitute? Certainly strong leadership is required in the EU on these matters and it’s great to see the Croatian president taking part in that leadership. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)