The European integration project, throughout its history, has faced various political and economic crises. None of them, however, was so closely related to its moral foundations as the refugee crisis. With hundreds of thousands of war and environmental refugees, and of economic migrants knocking at its door, Europe appears to be uncomfortable, indecisive, politically divided, and old in its reflexes. Nationalistic and xenophobic feelings have surfaced, damaging Europe’s unity, moral prestige and interests.
In the last two years the refugees flow towards Europe was strong. Hundreds of thousands of people have crossed the sea to Italy and Greece. Those in Greece moved north and engaged the “Balkan route”. And, there xenophobic governments first stopped them, then let them through, and, finally sealed their borders. It is true, close to a million managed to reach Germany, but then, under the pressure of the far right and of electoral results, this government had also to change its policy.
Now the refugees are caught in a trap. Many have stayed in Greece and Italy, and others in some Balkan or Central European country. All of them, however, are trying to find alternative routes to the North. Those are the “lucky” ones that have crossed the sea, which most of them had never seen in their lives; they have spent fortunes to pay smugglers and black marketers; they waited for days in front of police stations or borders; they have walked thousands of kilometers carrying their babies and the elderly, just in order to face closed gates, racism, and police brutality.
This situation, despite the efforts undertaken, remains “unacceptable”. There are states that still block or hinder decisions, as very recently in Vienna. They still ask, forgetting how many souls were lost at sea, that Greece and Italy stop them… They consider refugees to be a threat to their culture, to their social and religious fabric. It seems they are forgetting that hundreds of thousands of their citizens fled to the EU countries in the 1990s after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Worst, many of their citizens seem to forget fundamental Christian principles or ignore the messages sent by the Pope himself. Most important is that they violate the very foundations of European integration, to that extent that European governments and all of us, citizens, need to answer the question: is this the Europe we aspire to? Is this Europe that aspires to peace, democracy, prosperity and human dignity?
No! The Europe we want for us and our children is the one shown by the average citizen who gave food, water, clothes, shelter, and medicines to the refugees; is the one shown by the men and women of the Greek and Italian coast guards or navies, and by those who saved lives at sea; it is the Europe of volunteers who assisted human beings! This is the Europe from which the governments need to be inspired in their decisions, while responding to legitimate domestic and international security concerns.
It is certain that the refugee crisis will not stop until conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa end, until hunger and draught are dealt with. And this will certainly take a long time… Until then, Europe will have to deal with thousands of human beings fleeing war zones or famine, and has to do it according to its values. It is in the interest of the EU and of its member states. Otherwise the damage to the EU foundations, values, prestige, but also to the economic and political interests, will be much greater than any other cost some shortsighted governments are afraid of.
Published on New Europe
Photo: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation