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MEIG Highlights, Latest News 5 mai 2022

Highlight 27/2022 – Is there a biased approach in refugee asylum management?

Geoffrey Bala-Gaye, 5 May 2022

Source: AFP via Getty Images

There is a general consensus that humanitarian crises everywhere should be dealt with in accordance with legal principles enshrined in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. Notwithstanding, the effectiveness and efficiency of response between states differ. How well the international community responds is typically dictated by political will, compassion, and not capacity, resources, or the state of the global economy as some critics’ unfounded narrative. The increasing spending on military defense and interoperability, rather than on social infrastructures such as health, education and social security, even during a global pandemic or recession, reinforces this argument. As the world grapples with the ongoing violent conflict in Ukraine with devastating consequences of war; death; heightened human insecurity; and life-threatening risks, Europe, in particular, is facing its largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Since February, 2022 “more than 5 million people have fled Ukraine while approximately 7.7 million Ukrainians are internally displaced” since the beginning of the Russian invasion. The remarkable solidarity and welcoming attitude extended to Ukrainians by Europe and other states is unprecedented and commendable, perhaps due to geographical proximity or the fact that those fleeing are Caucasian Europeans. The European Union favourably has granted Ukrainians immediate temporary protective status allowing them to work and live in the EU with access to health care and other social services.

Contrarily, non-European refugees experienced a different reception than that of the Ukrainians. Visible minorities from Asia and Africa, including students, faced discrimination trying to leave Ukraine and enter other European countries, also millions of Syrian refugees still live in limbo, awaiting resettlement, without access to similar services. “In 2015, as hundreds of thousands of Afghan, Iraqi, Sudanese and Syrian refugees fled war zones in their countries, Hungary like other European countries built a fence for protection against what Prime Minister Viktor Orban called a Muslim invasion that threatened Europe’s Christian Identity”.

Likewise, Slovakia rejected Muslims, stating that only Christian refugees from Syria will be taken in, under the EU relocation scheme.  In October, 2021, Poland declared a state of emergency when thousands of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan attempted to cross the border from Belarus. It faced criticism for pushing back asylum seekers, violating a core principle of the 1951 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Convention; Non-refoulement (article 33) which Poland is a party. This led to the construction of a 350 million Euros border fence with Belarus. Such sentiments not only instigate anti-West ideals, but also heighten religious tensions, inter alia. Moreover, other states persecuted and criminalized aid workers and activists helping refugees at the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea, by charging them with human-trafficking and espionage, and aiding illegal migrants, for simply being good Samaritans.

Refugee crises inevitably highlight a dichotomy in humanitarian response that brings out the best and worst of countries. Although refugee response in Europe is generally described as uncooperative, Germany and Sweden are the few exceptions. They received the majority of refugees in Europe: 59% and 11% respectively according to a UNHCR report.

In several EU countries, ordinary citizens have volunteered to assist Ukrainian refugees at the border with food, clothing and shelter among other things. However, discriminatory and exclusionary policies risk widen the divide between the Global North, Global South and the Middle East/Golf states. According to a recent survey conducted in 2018, eastern European countries are less likely to think immigrants should be allowed in than their Western counterparts, both of whom welcomed Ukrainians with exceptional support this year.    In sum, the path towards managing refugee asylum is viable as the Ukraine refugee crisis has thus far, proven, although some governments may use economic and security reasons to evade responsibility. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a unique and well-meaning tool to protect populations from atrocities, however, its invocation and effectiveness leave much to be desired, as in Libya and Mali, inter alia. R2P should therefore expand and prioritise preventative mechanisms, focusing on root causes and threat multipliers, that trigger such conflicts. Incorporating a sustainable humanitarian management for refugee asylum that mirrors swift urgency and empathy accorded to Ukraine and the EU immediate temporary protective status. One hopes that the commendable way Europe has treated Ukrainian refugees or the international community’s unified efforts to emancipate the Jewish community in Post-World War Two Germany, will be a model for supporting all refugees in the future crisis, that appropriately fit the time and context.

Geoffrey Bala-Gaye, Is there a biased approach in refugee asylum management?, 5 May 2022, available at www.meig.ch

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.

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