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Refugees are human beings in desperate plight

Test in humanity and solidarity

Distant shores
A string of shiny lights from a distant shore, fresh sea breeze and a dreamy moment on the balcony of a Kos hotel in Greece, overlooking that mysterious shore. "That's Bodrum, a renowned Turkish resort," I was told. I liked to have this moment every evening, quietly sipping my chilled aperitif and getting ready for dinner in one of the many Kos restaurants.
It is easy to imagine people on the Bodrum shore looking towards a distant shore of the European Union and longing for a better life there. It's so near and dotted with inviting warm lights. They took their earnings, borrowed some money and packed up their best clothes, but took as little as possible - to travel lightly, as this was going to be a long and tiring journey. The crossing should be short and they paid a few thousand euros for the boat which would take them illegally to the European Union (EU). They couldn't obtain the right 'papers' to travel much cheaper and safer by ferry or plane. They had heard about many accidents at sea, but were prepared to risk their lives for a better future. They could not go back to war.
And off they went. The boat was packed and the sea was rough. They were scared, but hopeful.
And then it happened ... This was the week when the world woke up to the refugee crisis unfurling in the Middle East and Europe. Many have asked why Syrian refugees travel to Europe?
The second biggest exodus after WW2

There are now over 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 300,000 refugees trying to reach Europe have crossed the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Most are now landing in Greece, fewer in Italy or Malta. Many never make it: almost 3000 people have died or gone missing during the risky journey. If they eventually make it to the other shore they encounter many problems, starting with the EU migration regulations, and the Hungary's crisis exposes the 'farce' of the EU asylum policy. According to EurActiv, Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán plans to stop refugees, instituting a procedure which may breach many international laws, but he is reported to believe that other leaders will be soon forced to do the same.  Rich countries have actively avoided policies that would make the journeys less dangerous, and thus contributed to the danger.

As thousands of refugees are trying to reach Europe to escape war zones in the Middle East as well as poverty and turmoil in Africa, Germany has temporarily suspended the Dublin regulation for Syrians. This is a system by which asylum seekers must make their applications in the first EU country they reach, implying that they might be blocked in that country for several months. Trying to avoid being registered in the wrong country, most of refugees cross from five to nine countries to reach their families and 'mama Merkel'.
The rules governing immigration to the EU are stiff, forcing refugees to board unsafe boats as they hardly have any other option. Refugees are losing their lives, while criminal networks of smugglers are making great profits. How humane is that?
This video explains why refugees can't just fly to Europe. The reason why so many refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea is the Council Directive 2001/51/EC, due to which no air carrier would allow any passenger to board a plane without a visa.
Syrians have to enter the EU illegally, as they are not allowed to apply for asylum in the neighbouring countries and nor they can apply in Syria. Allowed to obtain a visa in the region, they would be able to travel safely to the EU. This is now being considered, but only for a limited number of refugees.
The New York Times published an opinion by Alexander Betts about the problem of unsafe travel, suggesting humanitarian visas, so that refugees could fly to the EU:

Small consular outposts could be created outside the European Union, in places like Bodrum in Turkey or Zuwara in Libya. As migratory routes change over time these posts could be relocated. At these transit points people could be quickly screened and those with a plausible asylum claim would be allowed access to Europe. They could then simply fly to Europe or take a scheduled ferry at their own expense.

"Small consular outposts could be created outside the European Union ..."
Unfortunately, the EU 28 member states lack a common approach, let alone the Schengen area states. Mind that not all the EU member states are part of the Schengen area, which is an area without internal borders; EU members states Ireland, the UK, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are not part of the Schengen area, while Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are part of it as associated non-member states. The asylum system differs from country to county, there is no common list of unsafe countries. This makes it very difficult to implement the common rules effectively. Between 400.000 and 500.000 foreign nationals are ordered to leave the EU every year. However, only 40% of them are sent back to their home country or to the country from which they traveled to the EU.
'Refugee' or 'migrant'?
Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. The UNHCR says that most of them are refugees. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, confirmed that at a press conference.
"We say 'refugees' when we mean people fleeing war or persecution across an international border.
And we say 'migrants' when we mean people moving for reasons not included in the legal definition of a refugee.
We hope that others will give thought to doing the same. Choices about words do matter."
See also explanation by NBC News.
Why is wording important?
"The term migrant does not properly describe the horror currently unfolding in the Mediterranean. Nor does it properly describe these people’s motivation for risking their lives to cross the sea or try to pass under the channel tunnel. It dehumanizes.
Only by saying what it really is, a Refugee Crisis, can we have any hope of understanding the issue and finding a real, long-term and humane solution." This explanation is included in a petition, requesting that the BBC use the term Refugee Crisis instead of Migrant Crisis when referring to the current crisis in Europe.

EU: Stop the drownings petition by AVAAZ is addressed to EU Heads of State and Ministers, the President and Commissioners of the European Commission, and all global leaders.

"We call on you to urgently lead the world to a humane 21st century refugee policy that saves lives and protects people fleeing war and hunger.
This means:
  • drastically increasing resettlement and relocation of refugees in a way that reunites families and shares responsibility across Europe, and the world;
  • giving financial and technical support to countries on the frontline of the crisis;
  • and ensuring security actions do not put those seeking sanctuary at risk.
The magnitude of this crisis requires united, urgent and massive humanitarian action."
Refugee crisis is too big for Europe to handle
Let's first recap in six minutes:
This is a humanitarian crisis of great proportion, involving the whole world and calling for a global approach.
Paul Mason of The Guardian claims that this refugee crisis is "the first, mass trans-regional flight of modern times", and as such too big for Europe to handle, since its institutions are broken:
"The Dublin III regulation, which requires all asylum seekers to be fingerprinted and sent back to their first country of arrival in the EU, is effectively suspended. The Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free movement across central and western Europe, is falling apart: countries surrounding both Hungary and Italy have attempted to place ad hoc controls on migrants and refugees. Frontex, the agency that for years coordinated a policy of deterrence and prevention – through sea patrols and border fences – looks powerless."
The challenge for Europe is to absorb the huge number of refugees and for that a new set of migration rules is needed. The Guardian also believes that the refugees will present a massive economic stimulus. To stand a chance of avoiding stagnation, according to the OECD’s central projection the EU’s workforce will have to add 50 million more people through migration by 2060, and a similar number is needed in the US.
"To avoid economic stagnation in the long term, Europe needs migrants."

Crispian Cuss in Al Jazeera offers a few solutions:

"If Europe seriously wants to prevent more drownings then it either
needs to tackle the scourge of human trafficking or conduct humanitarian evacuations itself. Given the lawless nature of certain states across the Mediterranean it cannot do the former, therefore the only option left is to deploy its own navies and expedite the evacuation of those refugees it is prepared to accept.

To encourage more refugees to come to Europe without facilitating their transit across the Mediterranean is to push them into the arms of the human traffickers who operate with such impunity."
"Until the West is serious about destroying ISIL, the refugees will keep coming, the human traffickers will ply their trade and the bodies will continue to wash up on Europe's shore."
Evgeny Lebedev writes in The Independent:

"Syria itself is dissolving, its map changing by the minute." He sees Isis the biggest threat to humanity that the world has faced in the 21st century.

"An alliance of Western leaders, Muslim nations and Vladimir Putin is the only way to defeat Isis."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to agree, as she urges the West to work with Russia on the Syria crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been advancing his idea for a “broad coalition” to fight the Islamic State, keeping Assad in power.
It is heartbreaking, thought, to know that the gravest refugee crisis since the second world war could have been avoided. According to former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, western powers failed to seize on the proposal made by Russia in 2012, that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could step down as part of a peace deal. As the US, Britain and France were so convinced that the Syrian dictator was about to fall, they ignored the proposal. Since then tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions uprooted.
Philosopher Slavoj Žižek believes the EU refugee crisis cannot be addressed without confronting global capitalism, as most of refugees come from the “failed states”. 

"The international community should put full pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to do their duty in accepting a large contingent of the refugees. Furthermore, by way of supporting the anti-Assad rebels, Saudi Arabia is largely responsible for the situation in Syria.  And the same holds in different degrees for many other countries—we are all in it."

Žižek warns the refugees entering Europe might become "cheap precarious workforce, in many cases at the expense of local workers, who react to this threat by joining anti-immigrant political parties."

"The refugees are not just escaping from their war-torn homelands; they are also possessed by a certain dream."
Their dream is out of reach to most Europeans. Žižek asks: "How many South and East Europeans would also not prefer to live in Norway?"
"The hard lesson for the refugees is that 'there is no Norway,' even in Norway."
What is being done

Toddler's death sparks outcry, here are some suggestions how you can help Syria's children. It seems that politicians won't help the refugee crisis, but here are 18 ways you can. You can help refugees through these 6 groups, which are doing important work. I repeat the link: Donate to UNHCR - UN Refugee Agency. (Please check the links.)

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to take in refugee families, Bob Geldof offers his home to Syrian refugees, an Egyptian billionaire wants to buy an island for the world's refugees, the IOC pledges help for refugees with launch of $2m fund, and Finland´s current Prime Minister Juha Sipilä will give his home to refugees in the beginning of 2016. A special Refugees Welcome international website has been set up to help refugees find accommodation. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans from the UK to take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees directly from the overcrowded camps near the Syrian border, where the situation is difficult. More than 100 leading British cultural figures have signed a statement calling for the UK to take in more refugees and complaining that the British government’s response to the European refugee crisis has been “too little, too late”.  All VAT will be waived on charity single Help Is Coming to raise money to help Syrian refugees.

Here's What America Can Do About the Refugee Crisis - A petition asking the Obama administration to settle at least 65,000 Syrians by 2016 has nearly met its signature goal in just over one week.

"The current crisis is a big chance for the German economy and society."
German entrepreneur Christoph Hering believes "the current crisis is a big chance for the German economy and society. Germany has all the infrastructure in place to welcome thousands of new employees, students and for most consumers. I think we will see a strong consumption increase in most industries over the next couple of years. Please remember, when the refugees can stay here, they need to rebuild their lives from scratch. If Germany can set the right framework now, we will all grow together."
Whenever you think of migrants arriving in Europe, think of this image by Daniel Etter for the New York Times. The family in the picture have safely made it to Germany.
“Europeans would understand plight of refugees if only they could meet them”, UN chief says.
Final thoughts
It is inhumane to further humiliate the exhausted and threatened people fleeing a war. The way they were treated in some countries, particularly in Hungary, is despicable and a shame for democracy. Building the walls does not help. Forcing people to stay in the country they register first, knowing that their family is expecting them in another country, is insane. Having babies at the railway station, surrounded by a crowd of over thousand people, is humiliating. Using tear-gas and force is humiliating. Dropping the refugees off to continue their way on foot towards the Austrian border is cruel, considering their exhaustion after being traveling for months. Some had to leave their belongings behind just before the last leg of their journey, tired and in blisters. Is this called humanity?

I am calling on the EU leaders to change the rules and secure safe routes for refugees, so that they no longer risk their lives boarding unsafe boats and giving their earnings to smugglers, who are the only ones making profits in this sad story. "It is time for Europe to take decisive action, allowing refugees to enter the EU legally," Social Europe calls on Europeans to unite and uphold human rights and the human dignity of refugees. The EU needs to redefine what it means to be a ‘refugee’.

"People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called 'survival migrants',” Alexander Betts believes, stressing that "in the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category."
"Survival migration has been an emerging challenge."

While everything should be made to secure peace and stability in their countries of origin, the international community should do its most to give the refugees a new home and the respect they deserve. They will become ambassadors of the country that gave them a shelter when they needed it most. They did not come to 'invade' us, they are fleeing from war and fundamentalists. Most of them are well educated and will contribute to the prosperity of their surrogate countries,  the same way they contributed to the economies of the USA, Canada and Australia - because these countries accepted all immigrants, economic and refugees. America wouldn't have had a talent like Steve Jobs, had his father not moved from Syria to the US to study in the 1950s and remained there. History is the best teacher.

Five history lessons in how to deal with a refugee crisis, by Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford

1. Enabling safe passage
2. Comprehensive plans of action
3. Development assistance for regions of origin
4. European burden-sharing
5. Adapting international legal standards

I would like to end with a ray of hope and a great initiative by Hungarian volunteers who have set up a projector showing Tom and Jerry for the refugee children. Look at those faces!

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

P.S.: This post is also featured on LinkedIn. Last updated on 25h September 2015.
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