Europe Still to Come to Terms with the Refugee Crisis
Refugee crisis in Europe
Europe is in the throes of a refugee crisis and it’s not difficult to see that it does not quite know how to respond to it. By mid-October more than 600,000 people had reached Europe by sea.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 3,100 people have died or are missing this year alone as they try to make their way to Europe. The flow is likely to continue with the UNICEF saying more Syrians could head to Europe as the conflict in their country continues.
The response to the crisis has been markedly different by different sectors and in different countries. On the whole, it is civil society and not governments or regional unions that have led the effort to help those escaping the horror of war. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have responded by providing food, water, shelter, health services and skills programmes for arriving migrants. CSOs are lobbying the European Union and its members intensely to tackle the intolerance towards refugees. Even the monitoring of refugee arrivals and the database on deaths is being done by CSOs.
The response from those in power however has been inadequate. From bickering in the European Union to hard-line stances taken by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his country must defend its borders from “migrants.”
There are, however, glimmers of hope. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more welcoming to refugees until the recent vote by Germany’s lower house of parliament to limit the number of refugees, although the country still projects to receive about 1.5 million refugee arrivals this year. The European Union last month agreed to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system to some member states.
The United Kingdom has promised that it would take in 4,000 refugees this year and 20,000 refugees over the next five years, although it is one of the European Union members that have refused to be part of the quota system. After unhelpful remarks by British lawmakers earlier this year that refugees must not make their way to London because its streets are “not paved with gold,” taking in refugees is a step in the right direction but it is still a “pitifully small” response, as stated by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the UK parliament.
Worryingly, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said that the money to support refugees should be taken from the Department for International Development (DFID) – the United Kingdom’s official agency in charge of administering aid. DFID is involved in a wide range of projects that include preventing malaria deaths, improving child education and child immunisations, infrastructure development, humanitarian work, civil society support and research among others.
DFID substantially spends about 12 billion pounds per year on international aid. Although the bulk of DFID funding is disbursed through governments, there is a possibility of reduction in allocations to projects led by civil society that rely on funding from the United Kingdom if the Osborne proposal is implemented.
Given the important work being done by CSOs in dealing with refugee crisis, it makes little sense for the UK government to cut or divert aid budgets from CSOs especially when efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by world leaders in September this year, will need additional resources. Instead, the UK should make a greater effort to support refugees from its domestic budget.
While the current rules around Official Development Assistance (ODA) allow for donors to count some expenditure for resettling displaced people in their own countries as part of their aid allocation, only a relatively small amount of aid given to refugees has been counted as part of ODA in previous years.
The concern for civil society is that faced with the immensity of the current refugee crisis, coupled with fiscal austerity, donor countries will divert more aid in this way.
Reducing funding could set a bad precedent and lead to other donor governments reducing their funding of projects in the Global South. Already there are concerns in Sweden as the government is considering diverting development aid to refugee reception aid.
In an environment where civil society around the world already faces a funding crisis, while the demand for its work increases, diverting funding is the last thing that the sector needs.
Funding the response to the refugee crisis should be seen as separate from regular development assistance support. If anything, additional resources need to be made available for civil society organisations to continue the essential work they are doing to respond to the crisis, while governments do their best to help refugees in line with humanitarian principles.