COVID-19 and Asylum Seekers (Part 3/3)

by Charlotte Lydia Bock* and Andres Escobar**

Gerald Knaus, considered the architect of the refugee deal with Turkey, said in an interview that since Erdogan’s cancellation of the refugee agreement, tensions and hardship at the EU borders have increased. This, according to him, could have greater consequences and trigger issues that were never imagined, a situation that demands an urgent agreement between the European nations. (Lobstein et. al 2020). Nonetheless, some unilateral measures have been taken, Greece suspended the right of asylum, and the EU seems to be less and less willing to help the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. As Angela Merkel said in 2016, “2015 must not, cannot and should not happen again.” However, in 2020 the EU countries are still unprepared anyway. (Jacobsen 2020).

There is no current solution to the looming refugee dilemma, even though Europeans have tried to find a solution during the past four years. The states do not have a common idea of how to deal with migrants ethically and practically, threatening to paralyze the EU once again. Most European countries are setting in motion national responses due to the lack of a joint solution to an issue that requires immediate intervention (Jacobsen 2020).

It is known that the EU’s main goal is to defend the principles and respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law Europe while promoting peace and the wellbeing of its citizens (European Parliament 2009). In reality, these rights and ideals are mostly reserved for European citizens. Politicians, like the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, want to seal off Europe not out of necessity but on principle. Orbán does not want to take responsibility for any emergency or actions beyond its borders. After all, he says one’s duty is only to one’s own citizens (Jacobsen 2020). Doesn’t this contradict the European spirit?

The situation with the refugees across Europe and especially those in Moria, could be considered a ticking bomb. The topic has been politicized since 2015, and more recently used by governments and political parties for different purposes. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the decision made by Turkey to open the borders with Europe could also be interpreted as aiming to put pressure on NATO to support their intervention in Syria (Trilling, 2020).

On the other hand, the spread of anti-refugee sentiments and rhetoric has been on the rise not only in the US by President Trump, but also in Europe where the political sphere has become increasingly more divided. In some countries right-wing political groups released inflammatory arguments, asking for migrants to be shot at the borders, which also encouraged their followers to carry out attacks against the refugees’ shelters. (Bowen, 2016). The refugee crisis helped the anti-refugee rhetoric  take hold and generated tension between the EU Countries due to the disproportionate burden among states. (BBC, 2016).

In Greece anti-refugee backlash has intensified with the border crisis after Turkey’s decision to let people cross. Politicians are using the situation to spread a negative message among its citizens of xenophobia and racism, calling the refugees Islamic invaders on their way to take over Europe. A way to reduce anger and backlash towards migrants, humanitarian workers, journalists and volunteers is by relating the personal struggles of refugees fleeing their homes in search of safety (Trilling, 2020).

Nevertheless, anti-refugee messages are not only being spread in Greece as there are politicians using the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver their xenophobic messages. Gyorgy Bakondi, the Hungarian security adviser who some days ago suspended access for asylum seekers, has justified the actions of his country, by building the link between the virus and migrants. Others accuse migrants of being infected before coming to their countries and infecting their population. Migrants at first were labeled as the enemy, and are now seen as the enemy carrying the virus for those that use  COVID-19 as an excuse to spread their hate. (Smith, 2020).

The truth is that refugees have been a political tool to manipulate agendas and as the Norwegian Refugee Council says, “the first to be stigmatised and often unjustifiably blamed for spreading viruses”. Situations are manipulated by“Some populist politicians across Europe who rail against migration and are attempting to draw a clear link between migrants and refugees and the outbreak”. (NRC, 2020). Finally, echoing the message of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, we want to finish the column saying that “the greatest enemy we face is not the virus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other. We must stop stigma and hate.”

References

BBC. (2016, March 4). Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911

Bowen, D. (2016, February 16). How far will anti-refugee rhetoric spread in Europe? Global Citizen. Retrieved from https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/is-europe-witnessing-a-shift-to-the-right/

Boffey, D. (2020, March 9). “EU and Turkey hold ‘frank’ talks over border opening for refugees”. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/09/turkey-erdogan-holds-talks-with-eu-leaders-over-border-opening

European Parliament (2009). “Values of the European Union”. Retrieved from https://europarlamentti.info/en/values-and-objectives/values/

Jacobsen, L. (2020, March 2). “Europäische Flüchtlingspolitik: 2015 war einzigartig, 2020 ist es auch”. Die ZEIT. Retrieved from https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2020-03/europaeische-fluechtlingspolitik-tuerkei-griechenland-aussengrenze-flucht

Lobstein, C.; Thumann, M. (2020, March 18). “Griechische Grenze: Chance oder Schande?”. Die ZEIT. Retrieved from https://www.zeit.de/2020/13/griechische-grenze-tuerkei-fluechtling-abkommen

NRC. (2020). 10 things you should know about coronavirus and refugees. Retrieved April 3, 1BC, from Norwegian refugee council website: https://www.nrc.no/news/2020/march/10-things-you-should-know-about-coronavirus-and-refugees/

Smith, A. (2020, March 7). Coronavirus used by European populist right to challenge E.U. open borders. NBCNews. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/coronavirus-used-european-populist-right-challenge-e-u-open-borders-n1149491

Trilling, D. (2020, March 6). With its heavy-handed response to the border crisis, Europe is making a bad situation worse. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2020/mar/06/eu-ignore-refugees-turkey-migrants

Authors:

* Charlotte Lydia Bock: Charlotte has a Bachelor’s degree in Economic Science from the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim. Her recent internships she completed at the research institute CINEP in Colombia and at GIZ’s Public-Private-Partnership department in Germany. Further work experience in development cooperation she gained with AIESEC in Indonesia.
** Andrés Escobar: Andrés holds a Master’s degree in Administration from the University of Antioquia, a Bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University ESUMER as well as the Bachelor of Public Accounting from the University of Antioquia.
“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”