The borders of Europe are today the borders in the world with the highest number of casualties. So Europe is still in a situation of finding solutions to the most basic element in refugee protection – namely saving lives.
First and foremost, European countries need to establish a higher level of solidarity. When countries are confronted with major refugee or migration flows a system should be in place different from the current Dublin Regulation, which has proven inadequate in such situations. If all 28 Member States collaborated fully, the pressures currently felt by a few countries – whether they are the point of entry or refugees’ final destination – would be eased.
Second, more legal avenues for people to enter Europe could be created in order to save lives and reduce the demand for human smuggling and the risk of persons becoming victims of human trafficking. The increased number of resettlement places that recently have been agreed upon is an important step in this direction.
Other avenues such as student visas, family reunification, private sponsor arrangements and other traditional, legal avenues could more frequently be directed towards refugees from Syria and elsewhere. In this way Europe would contribute more to meeting the global needs of refugees.
Thirdly, reception centres could be established across the EU. Common asylum determination procedures and common return programmes for those who do not qualify for protection could be jointly operated.
Finally, a system of settlement within the EU should be established. Member States have spent a lot of time discussing mathematical formulae to determine the exact number of refugees allocated to each state and according to which criteria. It has to be accepted that no model is perfect but that a common structure, even if it is a compromise, may help Europe more than the current national approaches.
One lesson learned from previous refugee crises in other regions of the world is that international or regional solidarity is an integral part of ensuring refugee protection. A European Refugee Protection System would therefore help to save lives. It would also contribute to defusing the drama and strengthen popular support. It would help to convey a message to the European population that we stand together to address the challenges we face. In the end, these challenges should be manageable in an area with a population of 500 million.
Morten Kjærum is the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) and the former director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The RWI is holding a panel debate, ‘Boat Refugees in the Mediterranean: Can the Drownings be Stopped?’, on Monday at Sweden’s Lund University. More information is available here.