NEW YORK – When the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) recently presented a panel discussion titled “The EU Perspective on the Greek Refugee Crisis” at the EU’s offices in New York, the conference room was packed to overflowing with listeners of all ages and backgrounds.
The presence of many university students pleased participants anxious for greater interest by young adults in the community’s issues.
HALC Senior Fellow Nikolas Katsimbras, who is a lecturer at Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program, served as the host and moderated the Q & A that followed, and Deputy Head of EU Mission to the UN Amb. Ioannis Vrailas introduced the topic and this fellow panelists, including Deputy Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN Zsolt Hetesy, Deputy Permanent Representative of Luxemberg to the UN Olivier Maes, and Paul Akiwumi, Director the UN’s Economic, Social and Development Unit.
Amb. Vrailas stated that the crisis is “not just a European matter but a global issue and that is how it should tackled if we are tackled if we are to be effective.”
The panelists largely echoed Vrailas, who said policy makers must focus on the reasons that prompt so many people to “risk everything to get away from where they are, the two roots issues…Otherwise the flow will continue,” he said, 1) violence – “conflicts with no end in sight in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other hot spots; 2) extreme poverty and human rights violations in countries where you people especially have no reason to stay
He said the EU members are looking at the issues “from the national rather than the joint prism…you naturally react that way when you see a wave of refugees coming at you, but there is a consciousness of needing to work together to find common solutions, because like water, this wave will find its way around individual barriers.”
The approach of Akiwumi, who was a refugee himself as a child, was more blunt, hammering home his point about the magnitude of the problem through the devastating numbers: “There are 242 million migrants in the world today, the highest number ever…the refugees have grown by 20 percent in one year, from 51 million in 2014 to 60 million in 2015,,,42,000 people per day – half of them women and children…86 percent come from developing countries…2.5 million are now in Turkey.”
It was reported that Turkey has spent $8.5 billion on the refugees abut had received only $600 million in assistance. The EU has since committed to sending an additional $3 billion.
One guest wondered whether Greece will receive such assistance.
Akiwumi also addressed the hatred currently being express against refugees by linking them to the terrorism issue – not as a population potentially harboring terrorists, but as victims fleeing terrorists.
Maes explained the twofold EU approach, which is to manage the crisis’ current manifestation in Europe, to treat the migrants with dignity and help them have a second chance in Europe, and the core issues.
The panelists brought up numerous related issues, such as the need to educate the refugee children so they can be prepared for the better futures promised by economic development initiatives, and not to becoming recruiting targets for extremists.
They also focused on the destructive actions of the illegal traffickers and the need to render them irrelevant by providing legal pathways for migration.
The participants could have noted that many countries, including EU states, are facing demographic catastrophes that can be avoided through properly managed migration.
Hetesy welcomed his colleagues’ points, but said clarification, distinguishing between migrants and refuges, would make their efforts more effective. The refugees are displaced by violent conflicts in places like Syria. ”We must put an end to these conflicts and the EU must be stronger on this,” he said. The migrants are affected by causes pertaining to the global development agenda, but he expressed satisfaction with the new goals adopted by international gatherings of world leaders and the deliberations of world leaders on the side of the 2015 UN General Assembly. While he added that his country has taken a tougher stand regarding the control of the flow of people, he acknowledged that “we have an absolute responsibility to take care of these people.”