Photo credits: UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis
“This fall has been dramatic with scenes from the borders and highways of Europe that we have not seen since the end of WWII. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the move to seek protection.
“They are fleeing massive human rights violations, wars, and conflict in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Currently there are fifteen armed conflicts around the world with millions of internally and externally displaced persons. We witness a world that is bewildered in its response to the conflicts and that has great difficulties in finding its approach to the humanitarian needs.
“In Europe, nobody in the governmental offices can claim that this refugee crisis has taken them by surprise. Although it may look like that from the un-coordinated and feeble response to the arrivals of in particular Syrian refugees at European borders.
“UNHCR, Red Cross, UNICEF, civil society, and many others have been calling on governments for the last five years to take action in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere to assist the refugees. But the calls have largely been met with deaf ears.
Consequently, the relief agencies have been operating with a small percentage of what they need. The call for orderly departure programs such as resettlement from the neighbouring countries has largely been ignored, disregarding the urgent situation.
“In the last months, I have travelled from Island to Istanbul with many stops in between discussing these issues. And what have I seen? In Europe, no one following the situation can have avoided seeing the immense power of the civil society. They are standing up to the challenges and creating a welcoming atmosphere for the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate situations. It has created a renewed momentum in the European civil society and strengthened the humanistic power in Europe.
“There is no doubt that this outpouring of effort by the civil society, together with strong pushes from the EU Commission and countries such as Germany and Sweden, has had an impact on the steps taken by European governments in their recent reallocation decisions. What we see now are the first steps to a more coordinated and hopefully coherent European refugee policy.
People on the Move
At the Raoul Wallenberg Institute we have just decided to make “People on the Move” a priority area, and we will in the coming years contribute to the development of European refugee policies that are compliant with international human rights and humanitarian law standards.
“In my work over the past few months I’ve heard two other things as well. Firstly, that the 1951 Refugee Convention is still very relevant, but there is a problem in what is does not address: whether to have binding commitments to resettlement or relocation of refugees from countries which are receiving a disproportionally large number. Positions seem to be softening although the European discussions also show that there is still a long way to go.
“Second, there is also a more vibrant discussion on integration issues. The link between protection and integration or seeing integration as an integral part of protection is starting to take shape. Here again the Institute will contribute with our actions on another one of our focus areas. In addition to focusing on “People on the Move,” we will also focus on “The Inclusive society.”
“This Director’s Corner has been very European, but none of these issues are exclusively European. They are inherently global in their offspring and in their solutions. The Raoul Wallenberg Institute is very well positioned with its global presence to develop research and outreach projects that combine the developments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
“There is a need for not only a stronger regional but also a global approach for a better understanding of the refugee and migration challenges. The challenges are not that people move, but how we meet them, and that’s what human rights are all about.”