MADRID – The arrival of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children seeking refuge from conflict has confronted the European Union with two stark realities. First, its member states are not all meeting their obligations, both to one another and according to international law. Second, its position regarding Syria’s civil war is unsustainable. To be clear: failing to work towards peace in Syria is just as grave an error as turning away those fleeing from persecution.
The defects in Europe’s asylum legislation and the difference among its member states’ practices have been evident for some time. But the 350,000 refugees who crossed European borders, and the more than 2,600 who drowned trying to reach them, in the first eight months of this year have opened our eyes. The inhumane conditions these refugees face are unacceptable.
Now, on top of the so-called “north-south” split that emerged from the economic crisis, the United Kingdom’s potential exit from the EU, and the critical situation in Greece, a new breach, between east and west, has appeared in Europe. The EU cannot afford any more cracks. Therefore, it must use all possible means to compel its members to abide by their international and European legal obligations.
That same urgency must be applied to peacemaking in Syria; after all, the refugees are a product of the country’s long, brutal, multi-sided civil war. The seriousness of the situation in Syria cannot be overstated. Since the conflict began in 2011, it has produced more than four million refugees, and approximately eight million internally displaced people. More than 200,000 people have died. To put that in perspective: more than half of the 22 million people living in Syria in 2011 are either dead or displaced.