The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was established by the EU to help it respect human rights in its policies. InfoMigrants spoke to its director, Michael O'Flaherty, about the refugee crisis in Europe.
InfoMigrants: What role has the Fundamental Rights Agency played in the refugee crisis?
Michael O'Flaherty: The refugee and migration crisis, or the crisis of migration policy more accurately, has been and continues to be a huge preoccupation for us in multiple ways. I've just come back from the Greek island of Chios two days ago, where I was for the third time visiting the so-called hotspots, the reception centers. We've been active on the ground, identifying human rights issues in the hotspots and helping the authorities to correct them.
We've seen some really good improvements over the last year and a half, but we still have a long way to go. And so, we're continuing to be present in Greece and in Italy. Another way we work is that we're monitoring the impact of the crisis in the fourteen most-affected EU member states and we're publicly reporting that every month.
So we're providing a credible database of knowledge about what's happening across the fourteen countries that can be used by the media, can be used by civil society, to bring about improvements. And we're also advising the EU legislation machinery to get its laws in place in terms of the so-called Dublin regulation, the Schengen regulations, the rules with regard to the fingerprinting of people arriving in the EU.
Why do you call it a crisis of migration policy instead of a migration crisis?
Because I don't want to put the blame on the people. Most of the people arriving on Europe's shores are coming from the top refugee-producing countries in the world. In other words, when we're talking about economic migration here, we're talking about people fleeing from persecution and need of our support, so don't make them the problem.
The problem is our willingness to receive these people and treat them in a respectful way. We're leaving some countries in Europe, particularly Greece and Italy, with an enormous burden, which has to be shared in a more equitable way right across the European Union. That is why I describe it in those terms.
What is a possible solution policy-wise?
In the first place, we've got to get the arrival conditions right, the reception conditions right. In the second, we've got to respect international law. So, when somebody is deserving of asylum, they've got to be granted asylum and in the third place, we have to put in place a responsibility sharing arrangement. In Europe, that's a fair one and an equitable one and we still haven't worked that out.
When I was in Chios the other day, there were a few thousand people who have been there for over a year. Some will return to the countries from which they came, many won't. But I don't know where that many are going to go. I don't have the answer. An agency responsible for human rights can't answer that problem. It's got to be answered by the politicians who control the EU member states.
What can the EU do about countries like Poland and Hungary who are unwilling to take their share of the burden?
The solutions here are political. They don't derive from human rights standards, which is my responsibility to reflect back to the member states and to the institutions. So I don't have an answer there. I'm like anyone else, waiting for our political leaders to show us an answer. What I do demand, is that the answer be respectful of human rights.
First published on June 26, 2017
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