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NATO and Europe's Refugee Crisis
The announcement last Thursday that NATO would send ships to patrol the Aegean in an effort to break up the smuggling rings ferrying desperate refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece is, at this point, more a symbolic show of solidarity than anything else. Even so, it reflects a heightened sense of urgency about the refugee crisis and sends a strong signal that the Western alliance stands ready to help Europe cope with it.
Gen. Philip Breedlove of the United States Air Force, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, said last week that the mission had "literally come together in the last 20 hours" and that he had been asked to "go back and define the mission." Part of that mission must be to help refugees at risk. Last year, 3,800 people drowned trying to cross the sea to Europe, and more than 400 have already drowned this year, many of them children. Frontex, the European Union border agency, and the Greek Coast Guard have simply not been able to cope.
Concern for refugees' safety was not, however, the reason Germany, Greece and Turkey — the three countries most affected by the crisis — asked NATO for help. The main concern is political: public dismay at the prospect that the tide of refugees shows no sign of abating. Last week, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to send millions of refugees on to Europe. Turkey has already taken in three million people and is under pressure to take in more.
This is an especially critical issue for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has met with the Turkish government six times in an effort to enlist its help to stem the flow of refugees. Her popularity has plummeted as Germans have soured on an open-arms approach that saw more than a million asylum seekers arrive in Germany last year alone.
Meanwhile, with its economy still in tatters and refugees continuing to arrive at a rate of nearly 2,000 a day, Greece stands accused by the European Union of bungling the processing of the applications of more than 800,000 asylum seekers who arrived on its shores last year, then allowing people to continue overland to Germany and other destination countries. It is the responsibility of the first country of arrival to process asylum seekers' applications, but Greece's reception centers are woefully substandard.
Athens has promised to do better and open new "hot spots" — centers where asylum seekers can wait for a decision on their applications. But the European Union cannot expect Turkey and Greece to do their part without upholding its end of the bargain. Europe must pay Turkey the 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) it promised to help keep refugees from leaving for Europe. And when the European Council meets this week, it must get member states to make good on last year's pledge to take in 160,000 asylum seekers already in Greece and Italy. The rejection by Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Saturday of Germany's proposal for a quota system to resettle refugees sends exactly the wrong message to other governments in the bloc.
So far, only 497 people have been relocated. That paltry number speaks volumes about the real crisis unleashed in Europe by the refugee influx, one that NATO ships in the Aegean cannot solve: the failure of European Union member states to forge a united, humane response to the tide of desperate humanity seeking help.
[Source: By The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 16Feb16]
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|This document has been published on 18Feb16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|