As the number of arrivals in Europe decreases, Filippo Grandi says it is high-time to share responsibility for migrants and refugees worldwide
Körber-Stiftung: Mr Grandi, you once said “given the right environment, refugees bring solutions, not problems”. In the EU, the influx of refugees has led to severe disagreements about migration policy on the one hand and domestic tensions in member states and the rise of populist parties on the other. Why was Europe ill-prepared?
Grandi: Europe’s asylum system – which has for decades provided a model for a harmonised, regional approach to refugee protection – simply wasn’t equipped to deal with the massive surge of refugees and migrants arriving in 2015 and 2016. The failure of European governments to manage the situation, and to find a coherent way to share responsibility between them, meant that the burden fell disproportionately on certain countries, including Germany. This provoked a political reaction across Europe that is still playing out three years later; and the challenge of finding a predictable, efficient mechanism for receiving refugees and migrants still has not been resolved.
The government and people of Germany are to be commended for opening their doors to refugees, and providing them with much-needed safety and protection. Strong leadership at the national and regional level was accompanied by countless acts of solidarity from local communities, municipalities, businesses, faith groups and other parts of civil society. However, the task of receiving and supporting refugees cannot be left to a limited number of countries, based on geography or other factors. A Europe-wide approach is needed, based on an equitable sharing of responsibility.
Körber-Stiftung: A Europe-wide approach seems to narrow down to increasing border protection and outsourcing the processing of asylum requests to other countries. How do you view this development?
Grandi: Despite the political rhetoric around refugee and migrant flows, Europe is by no means in the centre of a migration or refugee ‘crisis’. Around 60,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe between January and July this year – around half the number for the same period last year, and far short of the million who arrived by land and sea in Europe in 2015. Therefore, this is the moment to find predictable structures and systems for sharing responsibility and avoid the pressure being put on just a few states. Closing borders and ports, weakening rescue at sea, and blocking access to asylum in Europe, cannot be the answer.
Despite the falling numbers, the rate at which people are dying at sea is on the rise. Recent incidents in which some states have refused disembarkation of people rescued by NGO vessels are deeply worrying. Together with the International Organisation for Migration, we have recently proposed a new collaborative approach to make search and rescue and disembarkation arrangements more predictable and manageable, so that people rescued in international waters can be quickly brought ashore in safe locations around the Mediterranean basin. Notwithstanding this, the right to seek asylum in Europe needs to be absolutely preserved, as one of the foundational elements of the system of human rights so carefully developed over decades.
Körber-Stiftung: According to the UNHCR, since the end of the Second World War there have never been as many people fleeing crises and violent conflict as in 2017. Why has the international community become less and less able to solve conflicts?
Grandi: The rising number of those displaced around the world by conflict, persecution and violence – now standing at some 68.5 million people worldwide – is an indicator of a system of international cooperation in crisis. Current weaknesses in the multilateral system, and in the ability to prevent and resolve conflicts, mean that new conflicts emerge at the same time as existing ones drag on. From Afghanistan, to Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, the human consequences of political failures are evident.
Körber-Stiftung: How can Germany and the EU engage more in finding solutions to conflicts in their neighbourhood?
Grandi: Germany is an important contributor to humanitarian and development action globally, and one of UNHCR’s strongest partners. Together with other states, it has a key role to play in preventing and responding to displacement, and securing solutions for the millions of people uprooted around the world, so that they are able to return home and rebuild their lives.
In the meantime, it is crucial to recognise the enormous contributions of the countries in developing regions next to conflict zones that receive and support the vast majority of the world’s refugees. They keep their borders open despite huge pressures on their own resources, delivering a global public good, and contributing to regional and international stability.
Europe’s response must encompass this broader dimension. More support is needed to countries of origin and transit, along with investments in resolving conflict and addressing the root causes of displacement, and an expansion of resettlement and other legal pathways for refugees to alleviate the pressure on first countries of asylum and provide protection for the most vulnerable.
Körber-Stiftung: Why will the planned Global Compact on Refugees encourage states to do more for refugees?
Grandi: The new Global Compact on Refugees recognises that states cannot be left to shoulder the burden of hosting large numbers of refugees alone, and puts in place practical measures to translate the principle of shared responsibility for refugees into reality.
It aims to rapidly galvanise support whenever countries experience a sudden, large-scale influx, as well as sustaining attention on protracted crises. It brings together governments, humanitarian and development actors, the private sector, and civil society, with a focus on fostering refugee inclusion in national systems and building their resilience and self-reliance, as well as strengthening the communities hosting them. And it also includes measures to increase the admission of refugees to third countries – including through traditional resettlement and expanding the range of pathways for legal admission.
Germany has played a prominent role in the development of the compact, drawing on its decades of experience in receiving and hosting refugees and strong engagement in international cooperation. Its strong leadership on international refugee protection both – within and beyond Europe – continues to provide an important model globally.