The EU’s Response to the Refugee Crisis: Ideas from the G20 Youth Summit

Nicola Del Medico, 8 October 2015

The flow of refugees to the shores and borders of the EU member states is putting to the test their ability to show solidarity and protect the rights of thousands of human beings. This challenge recently made its way on the UN agenda, and it is growing in relevance also within the G20, which does not formally deal with peace and security and maintains an economic and financial focus.

On 16-21 August 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis was discussed by the G20 Youth Summit (the so-called Y20) on the initiative of the Turkish presidency, which is particularly sensitive to an emergency that is impacting heavily not just on European countries but also on Syria’s neighbours, including Turkey.

The young delegates from the G20 countries that met in Istanbul in August approved a final communiqué, which will be submitted to the heads of state and government gathering in Antalya on 15-16 November 2015. The G20 leaders, especially those representing the EU institutions and EU countries, should pay due consideration to the ideas discussed by the G20 youth, because the outcome of the Y20 summit can serve as a basis for a farsighted, forward-looking and rights-based EU response to the refugee crisis.

To begin with, the Y20 communiqué recalls that any action to properly manage the flow of refugees should aim at effectively recognising, protecting and promoting their rights. If the EU and its member states are serious about the fulfilment of their legal obligations and political commitments when it comes to human and refugee rights, their policy response at the domestic, regional and global level has to be geared accordingly.

At the domestic level, there is a need for establishing an institutionalised debate on the rights of refugees. This would raise awareness among EU citizens about the reasons why we have a moral and legal obligation to welcome refugees, thus favouring their peaceful integration in our society. Fear-based and xenophobic discourses are growing stronger and can jeopardise the attempts at managing appropriately and effectively the inflow of refugees. As proposed by the Y20, while the voices of refugees need to be heard at all levels of relevant policy making, this needs to be complemented by promoting interaction between the population in host countries and refugees, for instance by establishing mentorship programmes in schools, or by supporting the inclusion of refugees in universities.

At the regional level, the response of the EU and its member states cannot be limited to building walls and fences at their borders or to deploying a military operation in the Mediterranean Sea. While it is crucial to tackle the most urgent security spillovers of the flow of refugees, the current approach is not sustainable and it overlooks the root causes of the refugee crisis. In particular, EU decision makers should not forget that one of the reasons that pushes refugees to rely on criminal networks to reach the EU borders, therefore putting their own life at risk, is the virtual impossibility for them to migrate to the Union via legal means.

The EU and its member states should make sure that refugees travel safely and legally to Europe, also by granting humanitarian visas. In addition, and in order to follow-through the commitments recently made at the UN level, the EU should increase its financial support to the international organisations dealing with refugees in the broader Mediterranean region, as well as to the most fragile transit and host countries.

At the global level, the Union and its member states must advocate for a global response to the refugee crisis. The tragedy occurring at Europe’s borders cannot be seen as a European issue only. It has universal relevance. Moreover, EU leaders should call for the recognition of the inter-connectedness between the growing flows of refugees worldwide – not just in the Mediterranean – and other global challenges, including the fight against climate change and the pursuit of sustainable and inclusive economic development.

Building on the discussions on the refugee crisis held during the 70th UN General Assembly, EU leaders should further promote collective action in all the relevant global fora, for instance by proposing the establishment of a global resettlement programme. The next G20 summit in Antalya represents another chance to call for action the non-EU states that have the means to help children, women and men in need, and to support those countries that are directly exposed to the flow of refugees. The representatives of the EU and its member states should not miss this opportunity.

Nicola Del Medico is Academic Assistant in the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies at the College of Europe, Bruges. He is a member of the Italian Delegation to the Youth-20 Summit 2015.

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