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When Europe shows its other face

September 10, 2015 at 8:27 am

Respecting people regardless of their age, race, gender and beliefs is a principle that Europe has adopted as part of its democracy mantra and considers to be an example for others to follow. Third World countries in particular should consider it as a reference and pillar upon which its governmental and non-governmental institutions should be built.

However, some European countries, such as Belgium and Slovakia, discriminate openly and classify refugees fleeing from wars and difficult economic conditions, whether from Syria or elsewhere, on a sectarian basis; they have said that they will not allow Muslim refugees to enter their countries, but would welcome Christians. The Hungarian prime minister has basically announced the same thing. Barbed wire has been placed across some of Europe’s supposedly “open borders” to prevent refugees from entering and there has been talk of exploiting refugees in Germany by using them as cheap labour.

In addition, around 50 Palestinian refugees from Iraq have staged a sit-in in front of the immigration office in Malmo for over four weeks because the Swedish authorities will not accept their claim for asylum. A further 80 Palestinian refugees from Syria have been detained in Slovakian prisons since last July charged with illegal immigration.

All of this steps over the red lines of humane treatment and is a flagrant violation of the international treaties and conventions signed by these countries, especially Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It also violates paragraph 1 of Article 14, which states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention for Refugees, which states that assistance should be provided to anyone who requires it.

In an editorial in Britain’s Times newspaper on 7 September, the leader writer said that the Syrian refugees were an important test for the ability of the EU to take action to face the crises. The article demanded that Britain should seize the opportunity and take the initiative, saying that over 48 hours, an identity crisis emerged on the railway near the Hungarian capital of Budapest that threatens the EU’s pillars. The newspaper believes that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was mistaken in his belief that if everyone is allowed to enter, Europe will more or less cease to exist. The Times stressed that this crisis would end when the fighting in Syria calmed down. It also said that Europe has proven that it is unable to help refugees because there is no European consensus on determining the party responsible for their tragedy or how to deal with the problem.

With the failure of the EU as a political union to agree a joint strategy for dealing with the new refugees, the dispute between the member states; the exchange of accusations, especially between Germany and Hungary; the failure of the Dublin Regulation for asylum claims; and some EU states’ call for the need to reconsider the Schengen agreement have all uncovered Europe’s other face as it fails to translate its theoretical principles into action on the ground. The people of Europe, on the other hand, have rallied to help the refugees and push their governments into doing something.

There is no doubt that the EU is confused about how to cope with the influx of refugees. This will not pass easily or in the foreseeable future, neither for the competing parties in the parliaments and governments nor for the non-governmental organisations, nor, indeed, for the citizens of EU member states. The image of the drowned Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, on the Turkish coast, along with the other painful images of the refugees and the daily violation of their dignity, will haunt the decision-makers. They are also certain to have an impact on the credibility of European countries with regards to how they will address human rights in the future.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.