Refugee crisis: Vito Angelillo explains
What’s your view on Europe’s response to the current refugee crisis?
Europe has done too little to support the countries most severely impacted by the crisis: Turkey has appealed again and again for help in dealing with its 2 million refugees; in Lebanon, a quarter of the population are refugees (more than 1.1 million people); conditions in Jordan are becoming more and more difficult for refugees (almost 630,000 people). lt cannot come as a surprise to our elected leaders that refugees who have no perspective of re-constructing their lives in the countries neighbouring Syria should be searching for a brighter future in Europe. And yet, the political community appears to be completely unprepared. Worse still, in Switzerland there appears to be a tacit agreement to postpone the debate on the crisis until after the elections – a luxury the refugees don’t have.
ls the new wave of refugees arriving via Greece and Macedonia different to the previous waves that came to Lampedusa from North Africa?
The ongoing debate about whether every refugee is ‘real’ is misleading and dangerous because it is postponing an urgently needed, humanitarian response. Let’s focus on the facts: most of the refugees arriving in Europe are from Syria – which has been a war zone for more than four years. (There are also large numbers from Iraq and Eritrea, another war-torn country and a country with severe political repression.) According to the UNHCR, “last year, 51% of refugees (worldwide) were under 18 years old. This is the highest figure for child refugees in more than a decade.” Instead of questioning the legitimacy of the refugees – and leaving an unfair burden on a minority of European states – the whole international community needs to provide sustainable solutions fast, bearing in mind that whatever their origin or their reasons for fleeing may be, children caught in the turmoil of humanitarian crises have heightened need for protection.
What has Tdh been doing to help?
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Tdh has focused its efforts on supporting refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Our projects there include immediate emergency aid for newly arrived refugees and child protection programmes – based on a child’s fundamental rights to eat healthily, receive medical care and education, and to be supported psychologically and emotionally.
We are also active in Europe – in ltaly where we support our sister organization, Terre des hommes ltalia which takes care of children in Sicily – where they take care of children who have arrived via Lampedusa –, as well as in Greece, Serbia and Hungary, where we collaborate with local NGOs.
ln addition, Tdh is part of a coalition of NGOs working on a project called “Destination Unknown”, a group of more than 40 NGOs who protect children on the move.
How do you plan to respond to the growing crisis in Europe?
The Swiss population has already been very generous in supporting our projects. But the sad reality is that the war in Syria is far from over. We need more donations to finance the work of our teams in the Middle East and launch new projects in Europe.
Can’t we rely on national governments and the EU to manage the crisis in Europe?
European leaders cannot say they didn’t see the current crisis coming. The conflict has been going on for more than four years. But the international community has failed in its obligations to provide refugees with a safe and dignified existence in the countries neighbouring Syria. And Europe is clearly not prepared to deal with the refugees arriving in their thousands on its borders. Where governments fail, it’s our role as humanitarians to help families who fled war and oppression.
A situation as complex as this cannot be resolved through quick fixes. European governments must act simultaneously in four fundamental areas:
- They must contribute to re-establishing sustainably safe and decent living conditions in refugees’ countries of origin in order to bring down the number of people forced to flee.
- They must set up protection mechanisms along the corridors refugees are using to flee, so that exploitation and violence are not added to their already extreme plight.
- The must guarantee decent living conditions and support for refugees arriving in European countries.
- They must continue their work to dismantle trafficking networks that profit from the refugees’ plight and sometimes exploit them to the point of death, instead of focusing on repressing the refugees themselves.
Rather than continue the sterile debate on “real and false refugees”, it is essential to publicly acknowledge that the only reason families and children have travelled to this far is because they have no other choice but to run away from war and repression.