A challenge for Europe

Refugee crisis

 

It took the deaths of 800 refugees in a single incident in the Mediterranean, last April, to spur European leaders into action. But while they promised comprehensive action to deal with the forced displacement of populations through wars and persecution, they failed to deliver when challenging measures were proposed. Now that a further 185 people have drowned, during a search and rescue operation involving the LÉ Niamh, prevarication is no longer an option.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said the tragedy was a reminder of the consequences of not putting a complete solution in place. Search and rescue operations could not continue indefinitely, he added and there was a need to tackle the root causes of the migrations. He is absolutely correct. While individual EU governments have supported regime change in African and Middle Eastern countries, they have not been prepared to accept responsibility for the unintended consequences. According to the United Nations, an estimated 60 million people have been forcibly displaced this year, the greatest movement of refugees since the second World War.

Recession in Europe and the growing influence of xenophobic parties in many countries have made the resettlement of refugees a toxic political issue. Heads of government throughout Europe are under pressure, none more so than Britain’s David Cameron who faces challenges from within and outside his party as he prepares for a referendum on EU membership. Incidents at Calais, however, recede into insignificance when compared to what has been happening in the Mediterranean. Italy and Malta have taken in the majority of refugees. But, as the death toll mounts at sea, there is evidence that migration routes are moving east. Last Wednesday, the Greek coastguard rescued 533 migrants from 16 boats in the Aegean.

The crew of the LÉ Niamh had a traumatic experience when they recovered the bodies of men, women and children who had drowned within sight of rescue. Some 700 people had been crammed on to a small boat with a capacity of about 40. When it capsized and sank within minutes, those below deck stood no chance of being saved. Nevertheless, the Naval crew managed to rescue 367 migrants from the water and yesterday they were transferred to Sicily.

The European Union is in danger of losing its way as a cohesive group of states based on humanitarian values with the concept of solidarity at its core. Influence seeped away from the European Commission following the economic crash of 2008 and national interests have come to dominate the agenda.

Rejection by member states of commission proposals for a quota system involving the resettlement of refugees reflects that drift. It is time to revisit its founding principles.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.