Vocal Europe: What is your take on the current refugee crisis Europe is facing? How did Europe end up with such a huge flow of refugees?
Sir Graham Watson: We see the combination of a rapidly growing population in developing countries and a growing number of people fleeing war, disease, hunger and environmental devastation, often related to climate change. How did we get here? Through insufficient attention to the development needs of the world’s poor and through ill-advised or unfinished military operations.
Vocal Europe: What should be the steps the EU should take in short-, mid-, and long run to limit the negative impacts of the ongoing refugee crisis? What is ALDE’s major stance in this regard?
Sir Graham Watson: A common asylum policy is a necessary first step; we appear finally to be making progress towards this. Allowing refugees to work in their host countries would help in the medium term, promoting economic growth and integration and enhancing their dignity. In the long term a much more extensive policy of world development is needed. Europe’s Liberals and Democrats have long advocated these steps. When Belgian Liberal Louis Michel was the European Commissioner in charge of Development Aid he did much to promote such policies. As J F Kennedy said, if the free world cannot help the many who are poor it will never save the few who are rich.
Vocal Europe: As a transit country between Europe and some of the countries from which Europe receives immense number of refugees, how do you see Turkey’s stance as one of the EU’s key partners to overcome the refugee crisis?
Sir Graham Watson: Turkey has been remarkably generous in resettling refugees from Syria. It has also been a loyal NATO ally in some military operations. But we should not expect too much help from a country whose desire to join the EU was spurned by Europe’s Christian democrats.
Vocal Europe: To what extent do you think that ISIS is the major reason behind the recent refugee crisis that is now already a European problem? And, what steps can be taken by the EU to counter extremism in the region?
Sir Graham Watson: The military advance of ISIS/Daesh is a contributory factor but is by no means the only reason and perhaps not even the main reason. Refugees have sought to cross the Mediterranean Sea in increasing numbers since before the establishment of Daesh. The Only long term solution to countering extremism in the Islamic world is a greater focus on tackling poverty and educating people, especially women. In the short term we must work hard to bring Sunni and Shia together to resolve their differences peacefully.
Vocal Europe: Many argue that a real solution to the ongoing refugee crisis that is now the EU’s Nr. 1 priority (Junker’s speech) is to tackle the issue in the region. In that respect, can supporting anti-extremist, and peaceful Muslim communities in the region be a solution to weaken extremism in the region? Do we have such Muslim communities both in the region and in Europe?
Sir Graham Watson: Most Muslims are horrified by what is being done in the Middle East and beyond in the name of religion, just as many Christians were appalled by the excesses of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. Peaceful Muslim communities in war torn countries are in great difficulty, and even in Turkey the government’s recent harsh discrimination against the followers of Fetullah Gülen is shocking.
Europe’s Muslims can play a role in helping and should be encouraged to do so. And reason must prevail. As the Syrian poet Abul Ala al-Maari wrote ‘ Le peuple attend qu’un Imam se lève/Et prenne la parole devant une foule muette./ Illusion trompeuse! Le vrai Imam, c’est la raison./ Elle seule nous guide, de jour comme de nuit.