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E.U. Resettlement Should Be About Protection Not Prevention

E.U. resettlement could follow the U.N.’s original vision or become part of the European Commission’s efforts to deter migration. Swedish MEP, Malin Bjork, argues for resettlement designed on humanitarian principles, not ‘Fortress Europe’ fears.

Written by Malin Björk Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
An Afghan refugee walks between tents in a refugee camp on May 18, 2016, in Malakasa, north of Athens, Greece. Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

The European Parliament has taken a firm stand for a more ambitious E.U. resettlement program based on humanitarian principles. On October 12, the European Parliament voted for a sustainable plan to increase the number of people resettled. This contrasts with unacceptable proposals from the European Commission for a resettlement program based on countries agreeing to close their borders and sign return agreements. Conditionality of this kind runs contrary to the U.N.’s original idea of resettlement.

In recent years, we have become accustomed to images of people in overcrowded boats, and sadly we have seen an increasing amount of European countries closing their borders and refusing the refugees entry. At the same time, however, many of us are working for sustainable European policies to handle the refugee situation in respect of international law and in solidarity with refugees. One of the most important steps is the proposal of the E.U. resettlement framework.

The UNHCR has estimated that out of the world’s 65.5 million refugees, 1.2 million are extra vulnerable and in need of resettlement. Resettled refugees are selected by the UNHCR and ensured a safe trip to a secure country. They will also be offered to participate in an integration program to help them to quickly start a new life.

While the E.U. has 24 percent of the world’s GDP, the EU only hosts 8 percent of the world’s refugees. The European Parliament proposes that the E.U. resettle at least 20 percent of those who are in need of resettlement, or about 250,000 resettlements per year. For a country like Sweden, this would mean 5,000 people.

The U.N. resettlement scheme is a humanitarian program based on solidarity with people who are in need of protection and with countries hosting large refugee populations. It was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. An E.U. resettlement framework must also be based on these fundamental principles.

I was therefore deeply concerned that in the original proposal put forth by the European Commission, resettlement was made into a mechanism to keep other refugees away from Europe. In the commission’s proposal, refugees were turned into tokens in a game aimed to close Europe’s borders, just like in the shameful deal between the E.U. and Turkey.

To try to distort resettlement in this way is short-sighted and counterproductive. Instead, the E.U. should firmly support the international resettlement architecture, a structure many European countries have worked hard to establish. In close cooperation with organizations such as the UNHCR and fellow members of the European Parliament, these passages have been amended to ensure that resettlement remains a humanitarian program. In the position adopted at the committee vote on Thursday, the European Parliament insisted that resettlement is to be used to offer people protection, not as an instrument in a short-sighted attempt to exert pressure on third countries.

Another important aspect of my proposal, approved by my colleagues, is that resettlement should never be the only way to reach Europe as a refugee. Coming to Europe by your own means to seek asylum is a right under international law, specified in the Geneva Convention. This right was established after World War II to prevent what happened then from happening again. To compromise this right would be devastating and undermine the entire system of international asylum law.

Lastly, the European Parliament’s position requires all E.U. member states to resettle refugees. This is a responsibility all countries should have, as long as they are members of the union. However, I am aware that the E.U. so far has failed to get countries such as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to accept the few refugees from Greece and Italy they were obliged to take in. Should these countries again refuse to participate, we must be prepared to move on without them. We cannot let anti-refugee countries dictate E.U. policy.

My work for an E.U. resettlement framework provides hope in the otherwise grim landscape of E.U. refugee policy. In too many proposals, the aim is to close the doors to Europe. We on the left have consistently opposed the politics of Fortress Europe. The European Parliament has now taken a stand for a proposal that could make Europe open its doors for people in need of international protection. To make that happen, however, we need the active support from the member states in the E.U. Council. We are therefore alarmed by the reports that many governments are prepared to compromise rather than to reinforce the international resettlement programs. I expect more from the governments that are experienced participants in the UNHCR resettlement program, including from my own government in Sweden.

I urge the council to also stand up for an open Europe based on solidarity. Do not add any more bricks to Fortress Europe. Let resettlement remain a means to help people. Do not turn this proposal against those who need the help the most.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.

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