On June 26th, 2015 the Project for Democratic Union held a panel discussion on the European refugee crisis featuring PDU’s CEO, Benjamin Zeeb, Larry Macauly, editor and head producer at Refugee Radio Network, and Monika Steinhauser of the Münchner Flüchtlingsrat. The panel was moderated by Alexander Wragge, editor at Publixphere.
Every month, people leaving behind poverty, violence and destruction in their homes are dying while they try to reach Europe’s shores. As the situation in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood continues to worsens, more and more desperate refugees set out to find respite from their day-to-day suffering and the danger of death. Yet, far from being the safe haven, Europe can only be reached after dangerous journeys by land and the Mediterranean. Once the EU has been reached, a warm welcome is very hard to find.
The discussion began by contextualizing the scale of the crisis and commenting on the prevailing image problem refugees face. Current statistics from the UN High Commission on Refugees state there are sixty million people displaced worldwide, which is the largest number since WWII. Monika Steinhauser argued the scale of the crisis facing the European Union pales in comparison to the global situation stating, “we get the impression that there is a flood of refugees coming into Europe and that is not the truth”. In 2014 alone, 570,800 refugees came to Europe, 173,000 of those came to Germany, which means that only 7% of global refugees come to the European Union.
The discussion also extensively addressed the effect misperceptions and misrepresentations have on both refugees, as well as those who see the constant media reports. The media reports usually show African faces and rarely Syrian ones. According to Steinhauser, negative stereotypes of the poor and hungry refugees, who will only be a burden to society prevail in media reports across the continent. In reality, most of the refugees have left their homes because they have no choice: “people who are in fear for their lives will take whatever option they have”.
Benjamin Zeeb made the case that “the problem sorounding the refugee crisis is mainly structural. The refugee situation is one where the global really meets the local”. He continued to explain that the EU lacks solidarity and leadership along with the proper institutions to deal with these types of crises. “We would need a common foreign policy that is capable of deciding democratically what we want to do where; that does not mean we should become silently interventionist, but it does mean taking seriously the situation.”
Larry Macauly argued for the need for Europe to look inward and identify areas where change could be effective. In this context, he highlighted the fact that often times in discussions of refugees, what is often missing is the connection to human beings. He stated “the policies that dictate who should leave and who should stay is a deadly phenomenon”.
The discussion called for a greater focus and responsibility on the part of the European Union to respond to the crisis on its borders. The panelists called for a simpler visa application system and an increased focus on the needs and desires of the refugees themselves. Furthermore, a sharing of the responsibilities among all EU member states is necessary, rather than leaving the responsibility to those memeber states directly affected by the crisis.
Videos courtesy of interpressmedia