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Europe ignored the refugee issue until it was affected directly, then came “solidarity”

In an interview with Anadolu new agency, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, said that the EU delayed its response to the refugee crisis. The European official praised Turkey’s generosity towards the refugees.

According to Muiznieks, the refugee crisis that has caused widespread controversy within the EU must be faced with solutions proposed by member states. This can be done by integrating refugees and enabling them to rebuild their lives in Europe.

In his interview with Anadolu, he mentioned the permanent mechanism for distributing refugees in EU countries, which was presented last week by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in light of the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Regarding reactions to the crisis within the EU, Muiznieks believes that Europe in general “ignored the refugee issue until it was directly affected.” He pointed out that the countries on the frontlines, such as Italy and Greece, have been suffering from this phenomenon for years.

“The refugees were left to face their fate in those countries, but despite this, they have managed to reach new horizons.” Based on this, he added, “The EU should have endeavoured to structure its policies on migration and asylum as the policies have suffered for years from a number of loopholes.” In addition, the negative development of the Syrian crisis has also been one of the reasons that pushed Syrian refugees to Turkey, which has been “very generous” towards them. This also means that there is a need to look for solutions to rebuild their lives in other places.

With regards to the continued influx of refugees, the human rights commissioner’s opinion may be “more realistic” than that proposed in June by the EU council. Based on the most recent distribution mechanism, Muiznieks expects that European counties will receive 120,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary immediately rather than the 40,000 refugees announced in June.

“This is only the beginning,” he explained. “The numbers mentioned can change and increase over time, just as the requirements and needs regarding the refugee crisis could.” In any case, the new mechanism is considered much better than the old immigration system that was “unfair and temporary”. The Dublin Regulation, a law that determines the EU member state responsible for examining applications from asylum seekers in Europe, which has been suspended, makes the first country entered by a refugee responsible for administrating any asylum claim. This has put a lot of pressure on Italy and Greece.

“Our thoughts need to be directed towards passing a mechanism that respects human rights and the principle of solidarity amongst the EU member states,” suggested Muiznieks. He stressed that this mechanism must take into consideration the family ties that refugees may have in Europe. It must also ensure suitable living conditions in all member states. “In the event that they want to establish a life in Hungary and Slovakia, they must be able to do so, just as they would in Germany or Sweden. This is not the case at the moment.”

He insisted that the new mechanism must ensure that immigrants are not discriminated against “based on culture or religion” and that they are allowed to enter the workforce.

On the issue of migrant workers who are reaching Europe along with those fleeing from war and oppression, Muiznieks expressed his regret over the scarcity of legal means allowing immigrants to work in Europe. “This drives those who left their countries in search of jobs in Europe to seek asylum, thus adding to the burden of the system.” He called for the development of a process designed specifically for this category of people.

Muiznieks warned against the possibility that refugees who settle permanently in Europe may fail to integrate. “We must learn the lessons from previous generations and from the mistakes they made with regards to immigrants.”

He concluded by saying that his parents were refugees in the 1950s who fled from Latvia to Germany and then the US. He suggested that the conditions for receiving refugees have worsened since then. “I wish that Europe could have welcomed the refugees in a better fashion, as it did 50 years ago.”

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

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