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Our view

The west is not adhering to its values

by Katja Dombrowski


African refugees arriving in Tarifa, Spain, in July 2018.

African refugees arriving in Tarifa, Spain, in July 2018.

How the west treats refugees is disgraceful and irresponsible. It is unacceptable to see ships full of Africans, some of whom need medical care, cruising off Italy’s coast. They are not allowed to enter a port, because the new populist government in Rome does not want them and the EU is incapable of finding a solution. Too many refugees, moreover, drown in the Mediterranean Sea because their rescue is politically not wanted.

In the USA, government officials separated hundreds of migrant children from Latin America from their parents when they entered US territory. They failed to thoroughly document the proceedings and are now unable to reunite all families, although a court judgement obliges them to do so. Some parents have been deported and apparently cannot be reached. On both sides of the Atlantic, administrative harassment, precarious housing and questionable deportations are all too common.

There is a huge gap between ambition and reality. On the international stage, the west upholds its values and – rightfully – insists on human rights being universal. It is part of the west’s self-perception, moreover,  to act not only legally, but also morally. Both implies adherence to human rights, including the Geneva Convention on Refugees, and humanitarian principles. Simply spoken, it means helping people in need. US President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy is pretty much the opposite.

His attitude is prevalent in parts of Europe too. It is supposed to protect citizens. But although many people fear that refugees are dangerous, that is not so from an objective point of view. One million people per year that come to the EU, which has more than 500 million inhabitants, do not threaten Europe’s foundations. They will not ruin us financially, nor will they overburden our infrastructures or social systems. Their languages, traditions and religious faiths will not displace ours. Migrants do not steal jobs – on the contrary, additional workers would be quite helpful in ageing societies. Finally, statistical data from North America and Europe prove that, on average, migrants commit fewer crimes than a nation’s citizens. Xenophobic fears are irrational – but powerful. Some politicians take advantage of them. It is not the refugees who divide Europe, but nationalist and populist leaders, some of whom hold governmental positions.

Compared with other world regions, Europe’s problems are small. Millions of Syrians have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where they are provided only with the absolute essentials. More than 700,000 Rohingya are stranded under dreadful conditions in Bangladesh. In Latin America, 2,3 million Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring countries. According to the UN, there are 250 million refugees worldwide.

All of them concern all of us. Indeed, the international community recently agreed a global compact for migration. It is set to be adopted in December. While it is not legally binding, it does spell out important guidelines to protect migrants. All UN members are part of it – except the USA. This world power is shying away from its responsibility, just as it did when pulling out of the Paris climate accord. In response, the rest of the world must take the compact seriously. The EU could – and should – assume a leading role instead of further disgracing itself.

Katja Dombrowski is a member of D+C/E+Z’s editorial team.
[email protected]

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