For months, refugees desperately try to enter Europe, escaping from violence in their home countries to find safety in Europe. For months, some EU member states do everything possible to keep refugees out of their countries, doing everything to not fulfil their obligations of the union. Instead of cooperation and solidarity, Europe is going through a period of rising nationalism selfishness and lacking humanitarian sympathy: a challenge for Europe as a whole which could tear the union apart and every country would potentially follow an independent policy rather than a communitarian one. If there is a chance to increase solidarity among the member states, then it is through humanitarian solidarity.
Aylan Kurdi’s body was lying on the beach, motionless, with his small head in the water. His image is the symbol for the current refugee crisis and the inability of Europe to cope with it. He is one of thousands of refugees who didn’t survive the long and dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea. Those who survived and made it to Europe are facing the ordeal of being cramped in overcrowded refugee camps and being mistreated by security forces, combined with harsh and hostile reactions of the receiving countries. Hungary had built a fence alongside its border to Serbia in the past months and that fence had been completed just recently but it didn’t stop refugees from entering Hungary. The image of the violent barbwire fence right at the border of the EU, however, symbolizes the message that many in Europe are unwilling to accept new reality.
Unwillingness and Open Resistance
Though presumably a transit nation, Hungary does everything thinkable not only to drive the refugees out of Hungary, but its government under Prime Minister Victor Orbán makes very clear that he or his country does not feel any responsibility for taking care of refugees in any way. In the past few days we have witnessed chaotic conditions at Budapest’s Keleti railway station, with refugees desperately trying to enter trains bringing them to Austria and later to Germany. First, the authorities let the refugees enter the trains without having registered them, then they stopped entering them the railway station, forcing them to sleep outside the station, without beds, without sanitation. Then, refugees left Budapest on an overcrowded train, only to be stopped a few kilometres outside the city to be relocated into a refugee camp. Dramatic scenes followed: people desperate not to be brought to a camp, refusing to be transferred there, even going on hunger strikes.
The Orbán administration shows itself unimpressed by the obvious chaos which it has caused in the past few days. Quite the opposite, Orbán stated that he “only followed the requirements of the Dublin III agreement”, which provides that refugees need to get registered in that country where they first enter EU territory. In addition, Orbán is not tired to blame Germany for having caused the crisis in the first place as “Germany has announced not to deport Syrian refugees when applying for asylum”. In short, he declared the refugee crisis a “German problem” as all refugees just wanted to transit Hungary to get to Germany. It is not only Hungary “washing” its hands in innocence, as it is not the only country of all EU member states unwilling to accept refugees.
Taking a look at a map with the number of asylum seekers registrations, you can see a clear East-West drift. With Germany expecting up to 800,000 refugees by the end of this year, other countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland accept far less refugees, and it also shows in the number of pending asylum applications, with 306,000 in Germany and in comparison only 2,500 in Poland (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7f7e0d28-5225-11e5-8642-453585f2cfcd.html#axzz3klx4UTLv). But even western European countries like Denmark and the UK show unwillingness to accept higher numbers of refugees, the UK already threatened any “illegal immigrant” entering the UK to prevent them from getting a job, renting a house or buying a car. In addition to that, Prime Minister David Cameron was speaking of a “swarm” flooding into the UK through the Eurotunnel.
The March of the Refugees, the #Marchofhope
With no trains, no busses and the sensation of being trapped in a camp in the middle of Hungary, thousands decided to walk to Austria. Like a mass movement that reminded of the refugee movements at the end of World War 2, people started to walk more than 200 kilometres from Budapest to Vienna; through the city, alongside roads and motorways. An image that seemed to be forgotten, that Europe had not seen since the end of World War 2. But it is actually happening, in Europe, in a presumably unified and peaceful Europe, in the year 2015. By today, up to 10,000 refugees are expected to arrive in Austria, and alongside with Germany, it provided special trains to bring them across the border. Today, the first refugees arrived at Munich Central Station, being welcomed by hundreds of locals with water, food, and warm words.
Austria and Germany are both exceptions of a current tendency all over Europe, not to help refugees, but to lock them away and preventing them from entering countries or treating them like cattle. The images from Hungary sadly remind of times from the dark ages – ages we thought would never return in the early 21st century.
Currently, Europe is witnessing a block setting between eastern and western European countries, in which Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia refuse to accept higher refugee numbers according to quota. Their argument is that a quota would just “encourage” movements of refugees and their policy is to prevent mass refugee movements towards their countries, and Orbán even repeatedly stated that “they don’t want large numbers of Muslim refugees” and underlying his position saying that “the EU hypocrites should take care of them”. Europe is witnessing not only a mass movement of people, but also – as a severe symbol of non-unified crisis approach – very uneven distribution of refugees according to the proposed quota (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7f7e0d28-5225-11e5-8642-453585f2cfcd.html#axzz3klx4UTLv). As announced today, the EU is even considering sanctions against those member states that choose an opt-out from the quota scheme for 120,000 refugees (http://www.politico.eu/article/sanctions-considered-for-refugees-migrants-quota-crisis-opt-out/). Was this development in the mind of the EU’s founding fathers? Certainly not.
The original European integration idea was solidarity, assistance and support of each other, to create a sphere of peace and wealth. However, none of the founding fathers ever had in mind that the EU would eventually face masses of refugees trying to come to Europe, escaping from war in their home countries. Instead of trying to solve the crisis and find a bearable solution for the refugees’ wellbeing, the member states just blame each other for having caused and deteriorating the crisis, and not showing any willingness to share its humanitarian part in European community. Specifically regarding Hungary it is fascinating to see its own development regarding refugees. Back in 1989, when East German refugees tried to escape the dwindling situation in the former GDR, Hungary was the first of the former Eastern Block countries to open its borders to the West – hence Austria. Also, it was Czechoslovakia that sheltered thousands of East German refugees before letting them travel to West Germany. In short, both countries, Czech Republic and Hungary, have a historic record of support and help for refugees, and are now doing the exact opposite.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel once had said that “if the Euro fails, then Europe will fail”. This line needs now to be updated: Europe will surely not fail due to the Euro as a common currency, but due to the lacking solidarity among its members amid the biggest humanitarian crisis Europe has to face yet. As the things are currently evolving, the dissent among the member states is getting more severe and aggravated than in the wake of the Greek debt crisis. Unable to agree on quotas and various national governments unwilling to contribute even to the line of the leading EU institutions, the EU has basically initiated the beginning of its own demise, questioning the very basics of its key ideas of integration. Consequently, voices rise that the Schengen Agreement should be suspended in the view of “uncontrolled refugee movements”. Let there be no mistake: as soon as this happens, people can start to kiss good-bye to a common European idea.
Remembering the Victims
Aylan Kurdi’s body was buried in Syria, alongside with his mother and his brother. His father, Abdullah Kurdi, said that the only thing we wanted was to “sit next to his son’s grave until he dies”. These images of despair and resignation are Europe’s wake-up call for instant action and for common sense. Yesterday, the UK has finally announced to accept thousands of Syrian refugees, despite still refusing to accept distribution quotas among all EU member states. Thousands of refugees arrived in Austria and Germany, happy and relieved after having passed through a nightmare in the past weeks, who having risked their bare lives and who had to leave everything behind. In Germany and Austria, they will have a chance to start a new life in peace.
It is, however, too late for Aylan and his family.