Is Europe facing a refugee crisis? Is it Europe’s crisis? The answer to both questions is “no,” according to two experts who spoke to News-Decoder.

by Nelson Graves

Is Europe facing a refugee crisis? Is it Europe’s crisis?

The answer to both questions is “no,” according to two experts who spoke to News-Decoder this week.

Søren Jessen-Petersen, former Assistant High Commissioner at the UN refugee agency, and Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the agency, said it’s a global crisis and Europe can manage the inflows.

“No, it’s not just Europe’s crisis, and arguably I think that the word ‘crisis’ for what’s happening in Europe may be something we want to question, too,” Edwards said in a panel discussion with students and faculty from academic institutions participating in News-Decoder’s pilot project, including the School Year Abroad program.

The session was exclusively organized for the institutions, but we have extracted some key comments from both discussants in the video above.

“I don’t agree with this being called a European refugee crisis,” Jessen-Petersen said. “I think it’s a political crisis.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mid-Year Trends 2015
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mid-Year Trends 2015

About one million refugees seeking asylum arrived in Europe last year from conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. That compares to the European Union’s population of more than 500 million.

“It is very difficult to understand how one of the most developed regions of the world cannot find the capacity, the means to manage this crisis,” said Jessen-Petersen, who is currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

A number of EU countries have tightened their borders, calling into question Europe’s Schengen arrangement for the free flow of people across borders, and extreme right-wing parties calling for curbs on refugees have made electoral gains in some countries.

Edwards noted that almost 600 million international tourists visited Europe last year.

“We aren’t seeing a problem at the moment of Europe being overwhelmed by numbers,” he said. “We’re seeing a political problem of Europe coming to terms with managing the issue.”

Edwards said there has been “an immense reaction” in Europe to the influx of refugees, with some positive developments but also some worrying.

“Some look to border protection rather than refugee protection as their priority,” Edwards said.

“This is a global crisis of which Europe is seeing one element.”


Europe’s refugee crisis?

  1. I’ll tell you what I think. I know that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey deserve much credit for taking in and trying to accommodate millions of their brother and sister Arabs and Muslims, and it may be difficult for them to accommodate more. But the overall Arab and Muslim response to the crisis is beyond disgraceful. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation etc. have been weighed in the balance and found totally wanting.

    Why haven’t they rushed to the aid of these unfortunate Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, the vast majority of them Muslim, and opened the floodgates of their enormous wealth to house and care for them? Why is Europe expected to cough up 3 billion Euros or whatever to persuade Turkey to keep these refugees and migrants in Turkey? Why haven’t they offered to defray the costs of those refugees in Europe, if they can’t accommodate them on their own soil? Why should they expect Europe to pay?

    This is no Islamophobic rant nor an apology for right-wing European xenophobes à la Orban and others, whose lack of compassion and general idiocy is contemptible. The generosity of Europe over all is enormous and much to be admired. But where, o where is the charity of the refugees’ enormously wealthy fellow Arabs and Muslims? Where is the Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, of the Arab nation states likes Saudi Arabia (who was reported to have falsely claimed to have taken in 2 million Syrians)? Wouldn’t the Zakat 2.5 percent of the wealth of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar do much to solve the problem?

    Why has there been all this criticism of Europe, instead of an examination of the role, or lack thereof, by the refugees’ closest relatives?

    Yes, it is a global problem, but doesn’t charity begin at home? OK, we’re all part of the human family, but like it or not, there are numerous sub-families, and the Arabs form one of these, and Muslims another, larger family.

    I haven’t seen charity beginning in the Arab and Muslim home, apart from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as mentioned above. And even there, why does UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and other UN agencies have to keep on appealing for funds under threat of cutting already meagre rations when these wealthy Arab states should be volunteering the money in the first place? ,

    1. I agree that not much has been done by countries like Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. However, this does not mean that Europe shouldn’t do more, nor should Europe and all multilateral organisations be lifted of their responsibilities.

      please do correct me if I am wrong here, but these countries did not sign the Declaaration on Human Rights. Moreover, their view of human rights and the way these are “protected” is questionable, to use a generous euphemism. I am not surprised they are not doing much to help their neighbours.

      I also think that the whole Muslim brotherhood-thing is a made up concept. These countries share the same religion, but they are different countries with different interests at stake.

      Not only should Europe have the moral duty to do more–and it can do a lot more than it’s doing — but it should be in its own interest, too. The Middle East is at its doorstep.

      The EU has the highest GDP in the world. Granted, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have some of the highest GDP per capita, meaning that they are in fact richer than most EU countries. But still, Europe has the means to do what would be necessary to solve the situation. It just doesn’t want to.

      1. Amina, your own comment seems to admit the moral bankruptcy of the Arab and Muslim states in not helping their own blood, and kith and kin. Whether they have explicitly signed the international Declaration of Human Rights or not is totally beside the point. They are implicitly beholden to it by their membership of the United Nations. To just wash their hands of the issue for them by saying that they haven’t done much and then go on to speak at length of the responsibilities of the Europeans to do more is succumbing to double standards.

        It is their responsibility first and foremost. That they are not living up to is appalling and disgusting. Given that they are not doing so, morally responsible people in Europe are stepping into that shameful breach – and perhaps will have to do much more because of the values they hold high, despite the right-wing European haters.

        But when you have a president like Erdogan and a government in Turkey that claim to be Islamic and now are just acting as a conveyor belt for their co-religionists in distress, an absolute violation of the spirit of Islamic charity, it is the height of hypocrisy – even more so when this hypocritical president and government seek 3 billion euros from Europe, instead of knocking on the door of hyper-wealthy neighbouring Muslim countries.

        The European Union has held summit meetings on the refugee and migrant issue. Where and when is the summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to rustle up the funds to support these poor people, to fund UNHCR, UNICEF and other UN agencies to provide assistance to them nearer to home, among a more familiar culture, with properly conditioned accommodation and full supplies of food and medicine as well as schooling?

        The EU and the UN should call for an OIC summit to help deal with the issue. If the OIC, if the Arab and Muslim countries refuse to step up to the plate, so be it, but let it be clearly and decisively out in the open. Don’t just single out Europe for opprobrium, which seems to be what is mainly happening today.

        It seems mean and petty to take valuables from these people for their upkeep once they arrive in Europe after all the ordeals they have been through, as Denmark is proposing to do, but it’s a damn sight meaner and pettier for their kith and kin and fellow Muslims not to help them out rather than the Danish taxpayer.

        It’s not money these Arab and Muslim countries and organisations lack, it’s morality, compassion and solidarity. They need to be named, blamed, shamed – and hopefully, gamed into coughing up.

        1. Mike, you make some good points and I agree with you on the fact that these countries in the Gulf should be helping and that the international community should pressure them to do so. But, I don’t think the West deserves a pat on the back for the great job they’re doing, because they’re not doing a good job.

          Many of the right-wing haters are against refugees coming to their own country. They all say: Let’s help them in their own countries.

          What has the West done to help the people in their home countries?

          They’ve bombarded, they’ve removed from power or killed some horrible dictators and they’ve left a vacuum. This is also one of the main reasons why I think the West has the duty to do a lot more than it’s doing.

          I do think that the signing of the Declaration on Human Rights is relevant. Not having signed, means not recognizing fundamental Human Rights, such as the right to life. Saudi Arabia executes what it believes to be criminals without hesitation. Being homosexual is crime, protesting is a crime, women drivers are criminals. The whole world knows this. Yet, they’re part of the UN and last year their UN Ambassador was elected Chair of the UN Human Rights Council.

          Earlier this year, they executed dozens of people and terminated diplomatic relations with Iran, just when Iran was getting closer to the West. They were named, blamed and shamed. I don’t think they were bothered about “losing face”.

          It would be wonderful if the international community convinced them to reach to their wallets. After all, Saudi Arabia was one of the first to raise the red flags against Assad. But, they might feel they’ve done their share by

          Going back on the Zakat, the same could be said about all the Christian countries of the West. The charitable principles of the Bible should move them to do a lot more than they’re doing. Starting off with Italy, home to the Vatican, who seems to uphold its Catholic principles only when convenient.

          1. Hi Amina. It’s not about ‘giving the West a pat on the back.’ What concerns me is the knee-jerk often leftist rush to condemn Europe while virtually leaving the Arab and Islamic countries unscathed for their disgusting moral bankruptcy.

            Should Europe do whatever it can to help these refugees and migrants? Of course, based on the universal principle of human solidarity. But how can people continue to pile on the criticism of Europe while leaving unmentioned that Arab and Islamic moral bankruptcy?

            Millennia before there was either Christianity or Islam, the Old Testament, among its many era-constrained and now superannuated strictures, prohibitions and punishments, proclaimed that most beautiful of eternal truths: Treat Thy Neighbour as Thyself. That innate human feeling of solidarity is the wellspring of action for many in the West.

            You ask: ‘What has the West done to help the people in their home countries? They’ve bombarded, they’ve removed from power or killed some horrible dictators and they’ve left a vacuum. This is also one of the main reasons why I think the West has the duty to do a lot more than it’s doing.’

            Apart from the lunatic Iraq war vacuum spawned by Bush the Idiot, you cannot possibly accuse the West of the mess in Syria, the main cause of the refugee/migrant crisis. That is the total responsibility of Muslim and Arab nations and factions.

            How can you ascribe a greater duty to the West than to the Muslim and Arab family? This is not Islamophobia, that watchword bandied about sometimes correctly, but sometimes in response to a plain statement of the facts, which in this case is a reply to your statement that the West has a duty to do more. As I see it, it does, but only because of Arab/Islamic default, out of meritorious compassion.

            As for what has the West done to help people in their home countries, I suggest you check the list of contributors to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Children’s Fund, UN World Food Programme and other UN agencies to see who supplies the lion’s share of the budgets to help these poor people in their own or neighbouring countries, before tarring the West with that ‘shirking of duty’ brush.

            After all, the present European response is a far cry from an early refugee crisis when scores of thousands of Jews were not given any cross-border refuge when they tried to flee vicious persecution – as exemplified by the saga of the liner MS St Louis in 1939 when 908 Jewish refugees were refused entry all over the place.

            You say ‘Going back on the Zakat, the same could be said about all the Christian countries of the West.’ My argument is that they are already doing an enormous amount compared with the Arab and Muslim countries despite the higher duty these latter should have to their own kith and kin.

            You add: ‘The charitable principles of the Bible should move them to do a lot more than they’re doing. Starting off with Italy, home to the Vatican, who seems to uphold its Catholic principles only when convenient.’ But doesn’t Mecca have an even greater familial duty? Why do you refer to the moral principles of the Bible and not those of the Quran?

            What is it that you would have Italy and the Vatican do now? Italy has saved thousands of refugees and migrants from drowning off Libya. The Pope has made more pronouncements against the current horrors in Syria and Iraq and appeals for peace than I’ve found coming from the mouths of leading Imams, though I could be wrong here because of limited access to their utterings.

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