Refugee crisis: the European response

24 September 2015

The refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe continues to dominate policy, media and public debate. On Wednesday 23 September, EU heads of government agreed a package of measures in response to the crisis, including greater assistance to countries currently supporting large numbers of refugees, and increased funding for the UN refugee agency. But the strongest message from the summit was the shared recognition that the collective response to date has been woefully inadequate – which is about the only thing the member states do agree on.

On Tuesday 22 September, interior ministers had approved the controversial quota plan for relocating 120,000 refugees – from Italy, Greece and Hungary – across the continent over the next two years.  However, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia all voted against the mandatory quota scheme, and Slovakia subsequently announced its intention to mount a legal challenge to the decision. The UK has maintained its policy of not taking part in the relocation scheme.

Also on Tuesday, the Home Office announced the arrival of the first Syrian refugees in the UK since the government committed to resettle 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps in the region by 2020. This commitment represents an extension of the existing ‘vulnerable person resettlement’ scheme, which was originally designed to give priority to those who are victims of sexual violence or torture, or are too elderly or disabled to live in the camps. These priorities have been expanded to include orphaned children, Christians and Yazidis for the purposes of the Syria commitment.

The latest developments follow a period of intense political activity in the region around Syria, and in Europe. On 14 September, David Cameron visited a refugee camp in Lebanon, just the other side of the border with Syria. The prime minister used the occasion to reiterate the UK government’s key message that the EU’s response to the crisis should focus on helping refugees in the region. Meanwhile, several European countries, including Germany, Hungary, Austria and Croatia, have recently introduced, and in many cases aggressively enforced, border controls in an attempt to restrict the movement of refugees.

Bond members and other development and humanitarian agencies continue their efforts in responding to the crisis – both by providing support services to refugees and other vulnerable people in the region and in Europe, and by advocating policy responses at UK and EU level.