I doubt there are many among us who would dispute that Europe’s response to the Middle East refugee crisis is in chaos. As our own in/out referendum looms many Brits will add the shambles to their list of EU shortcomings if they haven’t already. The Council of Ministers’ failure to agree anything like an equitable, humanitarian solution will certainly colour which way many of us vote in June and as a pro-European no one is more frustrated than I am.
It’s difficult to remain unmoved when each news bulletin includes the latest on the spot assessment by our man or woman on the beach at Lesbos or behind the razor wire on the Macedonian border.
The latest hurried initiative involves falling at the feet of Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish premiere, and imploring him to help us all out of the mess. Although not yet agreed (at the time of writing) the deal includes what can only be seen as some grovelling concessions to Turkey. These include visa free entry to the EU for Turkish nationals; fast tracking Turkey’s membership application and lots and lots of dosh.
Now as stated earlier I’m an unreconstructed europhile but if there were a policy decision to shake my trust in the European project then this jaw droppingly ill conceived piece of buck passing may well be it. The word humanitarian seems to have been dropped from our collective lexicon, and has not simply been lost in translation. As individuals let’s ask ourselves a question. If those fleeing columns were trudging down our street how would we respond? I suspect some would bar their doors and close their curtains hoping the whole thing would go away. Some might be more actively, vocally and perhaps even violently inhospitable. But many of us, a majority I’d venture, would recognise need when it enters their neighbourhood and try and help. Doors would be opened. Food and shelter offered. Friendships forged.
Well need has entered our neighbourhood, Greek Street to be precise and our friends their, those same friends who we so recently scolded and mocked for their economic mismanagement, are showing a level of human generosity which is putting us all to shame.
The deal being negotiated with Turkey will penalise those desperate refugees who have risked everything to be crammed into overcrowded rubber dingies for a chance to scramble up a beach they know won’t be barrel bombed. The proposal is to send them back to Turkey, in case you hadn’t heard. The same deal also looks set not simply to turn a blind eye to that country’s deteriorating human rights agenda but to grant its government considerable concessions.
So let’s start calling a spade a spade. This is not an economic crisis nor a diplomatic crisis. This is a full on humanitarian disaster and it’s time we responded accordingly. And while we’re about it let’s abandon the cautionary proverb “never trust a Greek bearing gifts”.