’EU totally unprepared to deal with migrant crisis’

Migrants from Pakistan arrive on a dinghy on the Greek island of Kos, August 18, 2015. © Alkis Konstantinidis
After WWI the Middle East was carved up amongst the victors which laid the origins of today’s EU migrant crisis as often borders were drawn across ethnic and cultural boundaries leaving people dissatisfied, says Keith Best, formerly of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles.

It might seem that there are few places left in Europe – like Austria - which hasn’t been affected by the migrant crisis, but in its latest report Amnesty International lashed out at Austria's main refugee camp near Vienna. It dubbed the facility inhumane, shameful and chaotic.

RT: Don't you have a feeling that the situation in the Traiskirchen refugee camp in Austria reflects the whole migrant crisis in Europe?

Keith Best: Certainly it does and I’m afraid there are more and more camps that fall within that same category of criticism, particularly in Greece. As you know they’ve now got a converted liner which they are using to process people in Kos and allowing them to stay there. But there is a desperate shortage of space and that’s why many of these camps now are overcrowded, and you have only then got to look near to where the refugee crisis is originating on the border of Syria and in Lebanon, Turkey. You will see there are massive problems of people in serious overcrowded places where of course the risk to health is very great.

RT: What is the root cause of this crisis?

KB: The root cause is frankly Europe just not being prepared for this large scale numbers of people fleeing persecution and misery in other countries. Europe has rather just closed its eyes to reality and rather hoped that the situation might just go away. Of course it hasn’t. That’s the problem. The whole of Europe - and I include old EU states in this - is just totally unprepared to deal with this sort of crisis.

RT: How is the situation like this possible in a successful EU country like Austria?

KB: No country can escape the legacy of its own history and of course you will know - not from personal memory but from reading books - about how after the WWI the whole of the Middle East was basically carved up amongst the victorious countries at the end of the WWI and that laid the origins of the problems we have today. The way boundaries have been drawn across the world as a result of territorial aggrandizement or treaty at the end of conflict means that they very often go completely across ethnic, linguistic and cultural boundaries which leave people totally dissatisfied with the boundaries within which they live.

Migrants from Pakistan walk on the seaside, moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Kos, August 18, 2015. © Alkis Konstantinidis

You’ve only got to look at the Kurds for example. Yes, there is a de-facto Kurdistan around Erbil in Northern Iraq now, but of course there are large numbers of Kurds in Turkey. But Turkey’s borders will not allow, they are not prepared to give a chunk of Turkey to the Kurds and allow them to call it any kind of independent Kurdistan. That’s just one example, there are very many more. So, it is a legacy of history, but frankly the conflicts - and I won’t go on because you may have some other questions – that really need to be addressed are ones that need to be addressed at the UN level. It’s no good [when] either the EU states or a collection of states of the so-called ‘willing’ trying to undertake action. It has to be done at the international level. And this is where something I think Russia needs to learn a lesson here. Russia needs to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. It really doesn’t help when Russia vetoes collective action that is proposed at the Security Council.

RT: Vienna is now sending around 500 asylum seekers to Slovakia to relieve pressure on Traiskirchen. Will this measure help to solve the problem?

KB: First of all, the situation is all wrong when people have to undertake perilous journeys often with women and children who are quite ill-equipped to travel thought that kind of privation, lack of food, water, uncertainty about their own security. It’s no good expecting people who either have the money to pay the smugglers or indeed have the good fortune to arrive in a European country and then claim asylum there. We should be doing much more as indeed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) already do and that is to identify people in genuine fear of persecution and therefore in need of protection in and around the countries from which they are fleeing. That means identifying genuine refugees in the camps in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, in places like these and then saying to Europe “Right, we now expect you to take a certain number of these people whom we discover are in genuine need of protection and we expect you to take a quarter of those people and help them start a new life, preferable for a short period of time before the situation is stabilized in their own countries of origins so that they can go back there, but obviously maybe they can start a new life and remain in there, in a new adopted country.”

RT: Is cooperation between the EU countries helpful here?

KB: It’s helpful if there is a bilateral agreement between the states, but frankly there needs to be an EU-wide agreement. We have what’s meant to be a common European asylum system which goes way back to 1999 and the Tampere declaration. We should have that but when you get each EU state watching its own backdoor and saying “We want to wash our hands of this”; you don’t get that degree of cooperation. Look at Hungary – they are building an enormous great big fence. That’s not exactly a communal action saying “Let’s show solidarity with other EU countries and help to solve this crisis at the EU level rather than an individual state level.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.