Syrian refugees deserve better welcome

1 December 2013

Syrian refugees deserve better welcome

An emergency plan for Syrian refugees could also give a boost to European Union asylum policy, argues SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong.

Dennis de JongRecent weeks have seen a decrease in attention being paid to Syria. At least six million Syrian refugees are fading slowly but surely out of the picture. With the winter approaching this is, for them, an emergency situation, and we need to come up with a European emergency plan.

A European emergency plan is not only needed for the Syrian refugees; it can also give an important impetus to address the crumbling asylum system in the EU. The Dutch government is doing nothing at all in relation to this, which is exceptionally blameworthy.

During the cold winter of 2012/2013, emergency aid organisations had to do everything for the then million refugees, providing sufficiently well-heated tents in camps. That was successful, but only partly. In the meantime the number of refugees has grown to six million, of whom four million are in Syria itself. This year, a lot of refugees won’t sit around waiting for winter, they’ll be trying to find timely protection elsewhere. So Europe comes into view as a destination, obviously.

Also of importance is that the military regime in Egypt doesn’t want anything to do with the Syrian refugees whom the Morsi government had welcomed with open arms. For some 125,000 refugees, this means that they know that they are no longer welcome in the country where they until now have enjoyed protection.


Amongst Europe’s governmental leaders there is, however, no evidence of any feeling of urgency. At the EU Council summit on migration at the end of October, called in response to the influx of migrants from North Africa, no decision was taken to do anything about the refugee crisis. Yes, they set up a 'task force' of officials but its mandate is extremely limited: the officials must deliberate within the existing framework and can therefore not come up with truly creative solutions.

It is of course not solely the EU’s obligation; pressure must also be put on North African countries to meet their humanitarian responsibilities. Europe must urge Egypt to continue to offer the refugees protection and countries which have not ratified the UN treaty on refugees should do so. It does not help, however, that many of the countries involved are themselves unstable. That’s why we can’t expect wonders in the short term.

What should the EU do? For Syrian refugees the European system of temporary protection, agreement on which was reached as long ago as 2001, must come into force. This is an EU Directive which means that in the face of a mass influx of refugees the member states must actively cooperate to offer temporary protection. To this end the number of reception places each member state could offer would be mapped out and the refugees accommodated throughout the EU with financial support from the European Refugee Fund.


Part of such an approach must be that refugees arriving at the EU’s external borders would go directly to decent reception centres where they could make an immediate request for protection. Next, those qualifying for protection would be distributed between all of the EU member states. Whether under this system the Netherlands would be required to accept more Syrian refugees than now depends, amongst other things, on the way in which this distribution is determined, but the fact is that the number of Syrian asylum seekers in the Netherlands is growing rapidly as things stand, because many travel further after entering the EU.

If attempts to develop an emergency plan for Syrian refugees are successful, this could also influence EU asylum policy. This would mean that more reception centres could, where possible, be made available in the affected regions as well as a more rapid sorting at the EU’s external borders of those who need protection and those who are attempting to migrate for purely economic reasons.

Only in this way can an end be brought to the present levels of migration through the EU. Prime Minister Mark Rutte had, during the last European Council, an excellent chance to open a fundamental discussion of this issue. But he did nothing. In December the European Council will renew talks on the migration and asylum problematic. Fresh round, fresh chance. Will Rutte and Fred Teeven, his Secretary of State for Justice and Security, grasp it?

This opinion article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national daily newspaper Trouw on 27-11-2013

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