Refugee crisis: Europe's leaders meet to tackle crisis for the sixth time this year

Only 135 out of 160,000 refugees have been relocated across the Continent, with only €47.5m delivered of €1.8bn promised to help Africa stop its people leaving and €50m delivered of €500m promised to the Syria crisis fund

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European leaders gathering in Malta on Wednesday for a two-day summit with their African counterparts are expected to announce a scheme to manage migration involving billions of euros in aid. However, for all their pledges, European governments have fallen woefully short of meeting their own targets to tackle the crisis. 

This winter, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children could risk the migrant routes from Italy and Greece through the Balkans to countries such as Germany and Sweden. Charities and officials have warned that as temperatures drop, they cannot guarantee their safety.

But although the Malta meeting is the sixth time this year that EU leaders will address the migration crisis, governments are still unable to provide the money, manpower and resources to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe over the next few weeks. 

The challenge was underlined last week when the European Commission said it expected three million migrants to arrive in Europe by 2017. 

“European leaders keep agreeing measures that are too little and too late,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director. “There is a glaring lack of leadership, vision and solidarity. For all the rhetoric about restricting migration, the numbers will keep coming.”

Despite a series of acrimonious, late-night summits, and an ambitious programme of policies to try to solve the refugee crisis, national governments have so far failed to live up to their promises. When it comes to relocation, which involves redistributing migrants across the EU, progress has been almost absurdly slow: only 105 refugees out of 39,600 pledged from Italy, and 30 out of 66,400 from Greece. Since most border policies are national prerogatives, the EU institutions have pleaded with capitals to act, and will do so again in Malta. “This crisis is exploding in our faces,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a research fellow at the London-based Centre for European Reform (CER). “The main problem is that we don’t have a common approach.”

The meeting with African leaders will be followed, on Thursday, by a hastily arranged internal summit of the EU’s 28 leaders, which will look at how to manage the flow of people while keeping Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone. Since the latest surge of refugees this summer, member states including Hungary have erected razor-wire border fences with non-Schengen members.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs the EU summits, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, along with Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel – which holds the EU’s rotating presidency – will call out national capitals for not doing what they promised in providing money and resources to secure borders, process asylum claims and fund development programmes. “As I have warned before, the only way not to dismantle Schengen is to ensure proper management of EU external borders,” Mr Tusk said in his summit invitation letter to EU leaders. The British Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who chairs the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, blamed national governments for the chaotic response to the crisis. “This is an indictment of EU member states, who have only been looking at this from a domestic political point of view,” he said. 

Mr Moraes said that since the EU itself does not yet have the resources to manage the crisis, the onus is on national governments. “Only national governments have the navies, military resources, and emergency services – the major assets that rescue, help, redistribute people,” he said. “But they are simply in denial. They will not do the work.”

One of the main points of the summit in Valletta, Malta’s capital, is for the EU to push reluctant African leaders to help by offering them development aid in exchange for taking back economic migrants. The aid will tackle what the EU sees as the root causes of migration for Africans, who account for around a quarter of the nearly 800,000 migrants who have landed on European shores this year. But even on this, EU governments have been unable to find the money they have promised: the €1.8bn Emergency Trust Fund has so far only generated €47.5m in contributions from EU member state coffers.

The draft EU summit plan identifies wars and poverty in Africa, as well as Islamic radicalisation, for instance, in Nigeria with the Boko Haram group, as key drivers for migration. It outlines new measures to resolve conflicts, such as those in Libya and the regions of Sahel, Lake Chad and the Horn of Africa. But the plan suggests that most migrants leaving Africa are looking for work and do not qualify for asylum, so it includes arrangements to send them back. 

It also opens legal channels for a limited number of others – students, researchers and entrepreneurs – to enter the EU legally. “Rekindling hope, notably for the African youth, must be our paramount objective,” the draft summit conclusions say, while noting that, “efforts should be made to advance legal migration and mobility possibilities.”

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