‘EU migrant crisis created by political elite for electoral benefits’

Migrants protest in front of a train at Bicske railway station, Hungary, September 4, 2015. © Leonhard Foeger
Unlike Lebanon or Turkey dealing with over two million asylum seekers, the EU is not really facing ‘a crisis’, said Anas El Gomati of the Libya-based Sadeq Institute think tank. European politicians are flaming xenophobic sentiment to get political power, he adds.

RT: French President Francois Hollande, as well as other leaders, has claimed the EU needs to get to the root of the problem with the influx of asylum seekers to Europe. What exactly did he mean, and what has to be done?

Anas El Gomati: First and foremost, we have to make a separation between these two terms that we now have to conflate, in policy terms. The first is being “migrant” and the second is being “refugee”. A “migrant” implies that we are talking about stricter border controls. A “refugee” is someone that we are internationally obligated to, and have at least a moral obligation, to protect - so we have to speak about the way in which we want to protect civilians. In terms of looking at the conflicts in the Arab world – they are much more diverse. And I suppose migration and refugee flows are caused by these things, but it is getting the words right and having a right conversation, to begin with.

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RT: Presumably, getting to the root causes will take a long time, won’t it? There is no quick fix here?

AEG:  There absolutely isn’t. But I think outside of the traditional frameworks within which, particularly where France sits, and Germany sits, and where the UK sits, and other northern countries, to speak about the way in which flows of refugees come. There are two kinds of zones, or two kinds of countries that fit these kinds of descriptions. The first is a final destination: the UK, or France, or Germany, or even Sweden; and the second is a transit zone- so countries in North Africa like Libya, or even Italy now in the Mediterranean. That is a transit zone – meaning that somebody comes into that country, but ultimately they want to leave. And the same thing has happened today in Hungary or in other parts of Eastern Europe.

But to try to understand these dynamics we basically have to work out these very, very traditional, and very, very narrow framework of understanding. Twenty-eight countries in Europe that try to share their own borders, but also share their own economic and political policies and want to work only with each other don’t have the levers and don’t have the economic reach and even a political reach to work outside of the traditional framework, be it with North African countries, or be it with other countries in the Middle East. They have to work alongside them. So we have to kind of revisit this narrative and make it relevant for the 21 century. We are no longer living 100 years ago. The narrative that we’re using to describe refugees as migrants and even dehumanize as “insects” or “swarms” – that is no longer relevant, not only for our time, but forever. Ultimately we have to try to think of new policy ways and working with new partners to find a sustainable and more resilient solution to this.

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RT: Francois Hollande also mentioned that he doesn't want to give names but some countries aren't taking their fair share of refugees. Which countries is he referring to, and which countries do you think, should be doing more?

AEG: Certainly the Arab world has a lot more to do itself with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. The Gulf countries at large and Arab and Persian Gulf have been not only involved in this war by a proxy, but have direct involvement in wars in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, and further afield. In that respect they haven’t received even a single refugee since the beginning of the Arab Spring or the Arab revolutions, or civil wars in the Arab world - to come further of the European approach.  There are 200,000 immigrants or 200,000 refugees if you want to call them that in Europe; there are 1.1 million that are in Lebanon, and 1.6 million that are in Turkey. They are ultimately facing a crisis; Europe is not necessarily facing a crisis of sorts.  It is perhaps a little bit too much of European egocentrism I think, and a little bit cynical of politicians that are trying to give jobs to their own political opponents for wins at the ballot box a year down the line. We’re flaming xenophobic sentiments, in a service of getting political power. But when we look at the actual situation – 187 asylum seekers that were legally, through the asylum procedures, housed in the UK...

A Greek police officer stands guard as refugees and migrants wait to cross the borders of Greece with Macedonia, near the village of Idomeni September 4, 2015. © Alexandros Avramidis

RT: Do you think we will see a common ground between the EU countries. Do you think they will be forced to adopt some sort of common policy here?

AEG: Well, four years ago when the crisis in Syria began, we were told it was in our best national interest in Europe to want to involve ourselves in that. And within the EU, and within the UN the responsibility to protect which has been used in very, very different ways … had come to play a very, very different role. That was no longer given access to the Syrian people. And in that respect now we are looking at policy option very different from four years ago.

The policy options with migration and with refugee controls – there is no barbed wire politics here, there is absolutely nothing that one can do. And at the very same time if European countries …have to understand - outside of the traditional and a very, very narrow economic understanding of this- there is also security threat – not only by refugees, but by the criminal networks and the illicit traffic networks that prey upon refugees. If we try to leave them to become prey to criminal networks, then we do so at our own peril and we’ll revisit this conversation in very different terms in four years from now.

But the ways in which this can be done requires that kind of aggregate political will – that doesn’t require an economic straightjacket, but understands that necessarily this is a problem that we have to deal with. It is a problem that we have to deal with outside of our traditional networks, our traditional frameworks, our own traditional economic very, very narrow understandings. But more than anything we have to get rid of this xenophobic kind of attitude towards discussing people that are ultimately like this little child who had fallen off a boat, off the Islands of Turkey. This is a child that was three years old and we described him as some sort of security threat or a migrant, or someone who was trying to steal our jobs in Europe. It could be nothing further from the truth here. This is not a crisis in European terms, this is an artificial crisis that is committed and created by the very least, a very, very narrow class of political elites that are doing so for a benefit of an electoral victory a year or two from now.

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

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