Europe Should Adopt a Policy of Co-operation and Reciprocity to Tackle Refugee Crisis

28/07/2016 11:30 | Updated 28 July 2016

Whilst recognizing the "inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family", the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Article 14(1) provides: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution". Aspirational in nature, the UDHR does not create legally binding obligations for States. However, grounded in Article 14(1) of the UDHR is the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Having set up the modern-day refugee regime following the Holocaust, Europe has a proud history in the field of refugee protection. Still, much criticism of the European approach towards refugees from Syria and Iraq is seen and heard. In a similar vein, there is debate over the terminology of reference applicable to these persons: are they to be classified as 'refugees' or 'migrants'?

Since December 2013, over 3 million persons have been displaced in Iraq, whereas since 2011, around 12 million Syrians have been displaced. While Europe comes under harsh criticism for ignoring the plight of those fleeing persecution and conflict, the fact remains that the majority of refugees have not tried to enter Europe. There are 3.5 million Syrians residing in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey - a number far greater than those making their way towards Europe. In fact, out of the world's 20 million refugees, 95% seek protection in countries neighbouring the conflict zones they come from. For instance, there are over 2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan and more than 500,000 Somalis in Kenya. Hence, the argument that Europe is facing an overwhelming influx of refugees is not entirely true.

Professor Alexander Betts of Oxford University proposed an innovative approach towards addressing the refugee crisis - one that should ideally shape Europe's policy. He highlighted the success of refugee programmes, such as CIREFCA in Central America and Uganda's "self-reliance strategy", to support the contention that re-conceiving refugees as a development issue, as opposed to a humanitarian one, creates a "win-win" situation for all stakeholders involved. The reality that the conventional approach of humanitarian assistance has proved insufficient is manifest. There must be a shift from perpetuating a culture of dependency to creating an environment of opportunity.

Professor Betts' proposal provides an alternative that fosters a policy of co-operation and reciprocity, thereby enabling maximum utilization of human resources for two-tiered development: that of the refugees themselves and of the host country. In the same manner that CIREFCA was funded by the then-European Community, the European Union should allocate funds for the camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Moreover, preventing refugees from entering Europe is no longer an option that can or should be discussed.

Child refugees surfacing dead on European shores is unacceptable. Although it is late, Europe still has the opportunity to rectify their disgraceful treatment and neglect of these refugees by formulating a globally-aimed sustainable model of refugee assistance. Uganda's "self-reliance strategy" has proven the benefits of allowing refugees the right to work. 21% of refugees in Kampala are engaged in entrepreneurial activities - not only providing for themselves but also contributing to the economy of their host state by creating more employment opportunities locally.

This is demonstrative of the fact that setting the appropriate policy in motion, with regard to the refugee crisis, has the potential to turn a crisis into an opportunity. If and when the time comes that these refugees are in the clear and can return to their home states, Europe, if it adopts the Betts' alternative, can proudly pat itself on the back for turning a disaster into an example of an ethically sound political solution to be utilized as a model reference in the field of refugee law and policy.