Baroness Massey: European leaders must collaborate to address the refugee crisis

Posted On: 
15th January 2018

Countries with migrant hotspots find themselves unable to cope. This crisis will only get worse unless we resolve to work together, writes Baroness Massey

Migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos this winter
Credit: 
PA Images

Centres for refuges and migrants, termed “hotspots”, were proposed by the European Commission in 2015 to support Member States of the EU who face disproportionate migration pressure at external borders. The first hotspots were established in Greece and Italy. Their brief is to help fulfil obligations, under EU law, to quickly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants and act as temporary relocation schemes.

We now have a crisis. Countries with hotspots find themselves unable to cope. At the beginning of 2017, 1650 migrants arrived in the Greek islands each month. In September, the number was 4,900. Transit countries have found themselves dealing with semi- permanent immigration when migrants are prevented from travelling to the EU or are returned from there. While applications are being processed, applicants have to be accommodated and given support with health, education, and legal concerns.

Half of the world’s refugees are children, and many of them are unaccompanied. Overcrowding and lack of resources means that children, in particular, may suffer extreme abuse and violence, including sexual atrocities, exploitation, trafficking, psychological and physical trauma, and are likely to be drawn into criminal activity or radicalisation. Girls may suffer forced marriage. Invasive methods are often used to assess age. Families become divided and children may go missing. Women, too, may suffer abuse and degradation. This calls for special measures. And special measures are likely to fall to the bottom of the list in crisis situations.

Numerous national Conventions and Acts echo the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights supporting dignity, equality and fairness and freedom for all. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that every child has the right to survival, protection and education. Respect for, and implementation of, these ideals often slip from the agenda in the treatment of migrants and refugees.

Conditions in hotspots, as in some other camps, are reported as being inhumane and dangerous, including no separate toilets, poor sleeping quarters, delays in legal advice, lack of education and inadequate health care.

A House of Lords Select Committee on Home Affairs carried out an inquiry into unaccompanied child refugees two years ago. As a member of that committee, I was struck by the seeming lack of coordination and collaboration of the plight of migrants and refugees across Europe. I recall interviewing four young immigrants to the UK. They were still, one in particular, suffering from the trauma of leaving devastated countries, families and communities, and horrific journeys. They had not been supported during their travel or prepared for life in another country. Such a situation is not only inhumane, it points out the lack of a coherent approach to a pressing problem.

Concern about migrants and refugees, especially children, in Europe has been expressed by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe continues to produce reports and debates on the issue. NGOs advocate change and condemn unacceptable conditions. There have been numerous debates in the UK Parliament about policies and practice.

It is clear that countries in hotspots cannot resolve this crisis alone. The situation will get worse unless there is greater pan-European resolve to work together for the ultimate benefit of all. Two years after the House of Lords report called for change, the situation is still desperate.

The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Stella Kyriakides, visited Greece in December 2017 and called for greater solidarity among European States in order to relieve pressure on Greece and other Mediterranean countries, and effectively address the migration and refugee crisis in Europe. She pointed out that a camp in Lesbos is currently hosting almost 5,000 people but is only equipped for no more than 1,800.

My question in the House of Lords this week will, I hope, help to focus the responsibilities of all of us to share a common responsibility to relieve suffering and promote better coordination of effort in this challenge.

Baroness Massey of Darwen is a Labour peer and member of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee. Her question on the refugee crisis is on Wednesday 17 January.