Yesterday, The Compass on BBC World Service aired its final programme in a series on Destination Europe, focusing on the refugee and migration crisis that Europe has experienced over the past year and how this has evolved. Participants in the programme included Professor Alexander Betts, RSC Director, plus Hashi Mohamed (barrister and broadcaster), Autumn Brennan (former aid worker for Nurture Project International on Chios, Greece), and Saloua Mohammed (social worker for Caritas in Bonn, Germany).
Questions asked included: why does the asylum process take so long, how do geography and law dictate a migrant’s ultimate fate, and just how selective are individual governments being over their share of responsibility?
Speaking across the issues of shared responsibility, geography and law, Professor Betts said: “The European Union has failed absolutely to get agreement across its member states, to get a coherent response... For a lot of 2015 the EU tried to come up with an agreement to relocate refugees across Europe. There was a deal to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to different EU member states. It was agreed upon but today only about 800 or 900 refugees have been relocated under that deal.”
He added: “The Dublin system has that horrible quirk that means that responsibility is allocated on the basis of proximity. This applies within the European Union but also globally. The countries that are nearest to conflict and crisis take the bulk of responsibility, and those furthest away that have the luxury of hiding behind territory or water have the least responsibility. So there’s a real cooperation challenge to persuade those distant, in Europe countries like the UK or Denmark, to share responsibility with those nearest like Greece and Italy.”
And, what of integration, and education for young refugees? Is there a moral obligation on governments to provide education? Betts responded, “I think it’s both a moral obligation but also to our own advantage… I think we need to think about how we empower refugees to help themselves and contribute to our societies through jobs and through education.There’s a reframing that needs to take place to see refugees not just as people with vulnerability but as people with capacities; not just as an inevitable burden but as a benefit.”
Speaking about concerns about security and related xenophobia and nationalism, Betts said, “Politicians face a real challenge to address alienation and fear domestically, but without giving in to xenophobia and nationalism... we have to think about what is a sustainable and scalable way to approach issues of asylum and immigration. Now it’s getting that balance right. Recognizing that people have legitimate concerns but not breeding extreme nationalism or pandering to the far right, and that’s a very difficult balance to strike.”
Betts also highlighted one proposal for a more sustainable approach to the relocation of asylum seekers and refugees, Betts argued, “What we could have is a system where across Europe and in individual countries there was a better way of having preference matching, asking refugees what kinds of places they want to go to, what kinds of skills they have, what kinds of family structures or friendship networks they have, but also asking particular regions of a country or countries what types of people they want, and matching them.”
Listen to the programme here >>