The EU countries of Central and Eastern Europe must show solidarity with the EU countries of Western Europe in solving the refugee crisis. It would be shameful and hypocritical not to, especially as many citizens of the “new” EU member states have contributed to changing the demographic mix in many parts of Western Europe in record time. The issue is not that these legal economic migrants are net contributors to their host economies via taxes and hard work and so have just blended in seamlessly, it is also true that by their presence they have radically altered the demographic mix to a point where the extreme right are able to harness the grumbling and discomfort of locals, magnify it and make political hay. All the members of the EU signed up to freedom of movement when they joined and move the new member states certainly have. But now when I hear one Central European government after the other bleating about wanting to protect their demographic integrity it makes me want to throw up.
It would of course be wonderful if ISIS and Assad could be made to behave so that the problem could be solved at the source, and we could get on with our own problems, but the horrific acts of violence committed on civilians by both sides show no signs of abating and people are flocking out of the country in search of refuge. The countries of the European Union cannot expect only a handful of the 27 members to do all the work. On June 19th, the leaders of Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia met as the Visegrad Group and all rejected outright the EU proposal of migrant/refugee quotas. Polish Premier Ewa Kopacz made a big deal of the fact that Poland had granted asylum to a whole 150 Syrian Christians (non Christians were not welcome because of cultural differences). In the meantime Germany is expecting to receive around 900,000 migrants and refugees and decided to overlook the provisions of the Dublin Regulation as this is an emergency. Many will be sent back. It is estimated that around 30% are economic migrants from Balkan countries which are now classified “safe” by the UNHCR. The work of processing applications and allowing people to rest in humane conditions while they are waiting is mammoth and it is obvious that it must be shared.
There is money: in April 2014, the European Union adopted the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, representing a commitment of over EUR 3 billion for the next seven years (2014-2020). A major portion of this fund will be allocated to Member States’ national programmes to complement their own domestic budgets, which should help improve asylum systems, reception modalities, and integration policies. (see: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/
If this money is available, and surely it has been applied for, why are the conditions in which the refugees must wait so inadequate? Is it another case of grant funding being received on the basis of well written proposals but then the money being diverted? In the Czech Republic, refugees are hauled off trains and as they have the wrong paperwork, they are arrested and detained. They are placed in camps surrounded by barbed wire but must first hand over their valuables, telephones and cash. And get this: the state deducts the cost of their forced stay from the cash that has been taken from them. Isn’t that what the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund is for? The Czech treatment of refugees has been called a violation of international law. Milos Zeman, the Czech President said last week:
”I think that we should not have to accept any refugees from countries distant from us in terms of culture. It is quite different with accepting, let’s say, Ukrainians,..”
We hear a lot about Viktor Orban’s rather pathetic (but expensive) little fence but the Bulgarians have erected a much more impressive structure which has pushed even more people into the nets of traffickers who are so heartless they will literally rob desperate refugees of all their money before knowingly crushing them to death in a sealed lorry. Pictures of Bulgarian border guards smugly standing by the fence have earned applause in the right wing press, along with suggestions to bring in the army. And how much was spent on this fence and where did the money come from?
The blatant racism and heartlessness on display in countries which have joined the EU recently means that they are not doing their share in the refugee crisis and expecting the old members to take care of the problem.
My vote this week goes to the ticket inspectors at Keleti station in Budapest. The metro station opens into the transit zone where tired refugees are huddled. I suddenly saw a group of very small children lining up to run into the arms of the burly guards who lifted them into the air until they laughed with delight then they happily gathered around them for a group photograph. The guard I spoke to was indignant that so little was being done to help innocent children. He had heart.
Terri Potoczna Fussen