European governments have managed to push through a new migration deal, a plan that will use refugee quotas to relocate a total of 120,000 people across Europe within two years: 66,000 refugees within the first year, followed by the remaining 54,000 in the next.
Within the first year, Germany and France alone plan to take 30,000 individuals between them. Meanwhile, the nine countries of central and eastern Europe have agreed to take half that. Britain has decided to opt out the scheme all together, instead choosing to adopt a policy of their own that promises to accept a total of 20,000 refugees over five years.
The deal will apply only to refugees who are considered to require immediate international protection – “economic migrants” will thus not be addressed under this plan. Vulnerable people, such as rape victims and unaccompanied children, will be given priority. Furthermore, the plan will only qualify refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea.
To separate “economic migrants” from refugees, reception centres called “hotspots” will be set up in frontline member states in which new arrivals will be registered prior to European entry. Upon entering, the refugee’s language skills and family connections will be considered, in order to help determine their assigning country of re-distribution. Following an initial screening and fingerprinting, each refugee will be given €6,000 to support their integration into the new country.
A Divisive Issue
The plan gained quick appreciation from NGOs and immigration professionals, who see it as a progressive, if not belated, response to the largest ever migration crisis in Europe. While in favour of the deal, refugee advocates do express some concern over its ability to adequately address the number of people migrating.
The current wave of migration already quadruples the number set forth by the deal. A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, Carlotta Sami, points out: “Considering that as of today almost 480,000 people have arrived [in Europe this year by boat], and 84% are coming from refugee-producing countries, this is clearly not enough.” Sami is of the opinion that in order for the policy to be successful, the EU ought to further expand the quota.
Despite the general support, the issue has become highly divisive within the EU- four governments in particular feeling that the policy is an attempt to bully them into submission. Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic opposed the plan outright, considering it a threat to national sovereignty and the imposition of western ideals. Both Slovakian Prime minister Robert Fico and the Czech government’s interior minister Milan Chovanec responded with disdain following the vote, predicting the new policy was destined to fail.
Hungary has demonstrated their resistance to the immigration policy with more than just words. The country continues to build fences along its borders and has authorized its army to use tear gas and rubber bullets against the refugees.
The Case of Hungary
Arguably one of the most firmly opposed to the plan, Hungary has not been shy in making clear their strong anti-immigration stance. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has long presented himself in opposition of Western liberalism, has said outright that his aim is to prevent Muslim refugees from entering Christian Europe. He is of the opinion that, “Hungarians must make every effort for the defence of their freedom, their culture and their customs”. In addition to barbed fences and rubber bullets, the Hungarian government has now adopted laws that make the crossing of their borders by asylum seekers a criminal act.
EU leaders have been quick to comment on Orban’s refusal of refugees, based on the fact that it is grounded in a discriminatory, out-dated ideology. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann points out that, “to divide human rights by religion is intolerable” and evokes memory of European fascism during the 1930s.
Voices across Europe urge that in order to progress, both European leaders and policy must incorporate the co-operation necessary for the present global era. Issues of capacity and available jobs are legitimate factors when considering the distribution of refugees into and across Europe. Religious intolerance and discriminatory ideologies are not. In order to join the EU in the first place, members must commit to uphold a standard of universal human rights. One of these universal human rights is the right to asylum for those who face prosecution in their home country. The ideology of intolerance currently driving Hungary’s response is one that quite literally puts up walls against humanity, rather than embracing its problems and working towards solutions together.
How Europe succeeds or fails in creating a solution to this crisis will be telling of the EU’s legitimacy in an increasingly complex, globalized world. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts it, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees… then it won’t be the Europe we wished for.”
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