It drowns with refugees in the deadly Aegean Sea. It cries with the migrants pepper-sprayed by Hungarian police. It suffocates in the back of a truck with Syrians on the way to Austria. It is crushed by cars next to the desperate war survivors trying to make it through the Calais tunnel to England.
A 2012 Nobel Peace Prize winner; a shining lighthouse of democracy, freedom and human rights ends in shame. Over 3,440 men, women and children have gone missing or died on the way to Europe this year. That’s an average of eleven a day.
The European leaders’ reaction to this was marked by deadly inaction. The same leaders who were stunningly quick to respond to the financial crisis and had little concerns about doling out billions and billions of taxpayer euros to rescue troubled banks simply watched as a human tragedy of massive numbers unfolded. One EU refugee summit after another, they retreated into nationalistic egoism and chose to stay part of the problem rather than become part of the solution. Let me give you an example: last month, EU leaders committed to distribute 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy – countries strained by the recent influx of refugees. The number 160,000 itself, although seeming significant, is rather modest given that Greece alone registered more than 600,000 refugee arrivals so far in 2015. But of those 160,000 the EU only managed to find a new home for 86. 86 out of 160,000, exactly.
When the EU does nothing, suffering and chaos on a massive scale ensue. For weeks, they stood by as migrants stranded on the infamous Balkans route. With countries randomly closing and opening its borders, refugees were often left stranded in the no man’s land. They slept in the open, mostly without any access to medical care, enough food or water. Among the refugees were families with little children, unaccompanied minors and ill people. If this continues throughout the winter, deaths by hypothermia are only a matter of time. On a slightly more positive note, the EU pledged to create accommodations for 50,000 people along the Balkans route. However, that number will not nearly be enough; and it remains unclear whether the construction of these facilities will come in time to prevent the tragdey that is approaching with cold weather.
When the EU does do something, it usually doesn’t make things better, either. In Greece, so-called ‘Hot spots’ were established to ensure a quick registration of arriving refugees. In one of those ‘hot spots’, activists have documented inhuman conditions. Refugees, including sick, children and pregnant women, were left standing in the rain, without appropriate nutrition or medical care. The conditions in the camp – which is, by the way, surrounded by razor wire – are unacceptable.
And the shame continues. Every day, we allow refugees to risk their lives trying to get to Greece by sea because of the EU’s consistent refusal to guarantee safe passage and create a joint sea rescue program that could save lives – the humanists of the EU prefer the idea of a military operation deterring the traffickers.
If this is the face of Europe, if this is how the EU and its members ‘care’, then we must pronounce the ideals of the European project dead. The principle of solidarity had already been damaged earlier this year when Europe imposed yet another punitive austerity package on the Greeks, who had elected a far-left government defying exactly those doctrines. The conditions the EU set for another bailout loan are most likely to plunge even more Greeks into poverty, although the media have abandoned this topic by now. So yes, the European idea was already tumbling. But the disgraceful failure to treat refugees with dignity then delivered the fatal blow. It’s tragic. Rest in peace, nice ideals. With every day that this crisis is allowed to continue, I lose faith in the humanity of this Union. We’re betraying those in need. A drastic, sweeping change, and immediate action are needed to turn this around. If we are not to bury the European idea, determined and bold decisions need to be made. Every country must make an effort to shelter refugees. We must act to ensure no more lives are lost on the way to Europe. I’d love to see this happen. But we are running out of time to save fragile Europa, and the reasons for hope are sparse.