10 September 2015
Good morning everyone. I’m Michael Diedring, Secretary General of ECRE and I’d like to welcome you to the launch of the AIDA Annual Report 2014/2015.
With things moving as quickly as they have recently, it’s almost difficult to look back to 2014 and find a connection to what is happening today. The current situation, however, should not be a surprise as many, ECRE included, have been warning of this result for many years. Given the dramatic changes over the last several weeks, it’s necessary to look at the AIDA report as a snapshot. It reveals what we and our members saw on the ground over the past year, but also the trends that can be helpful as we look to future solutions
Politically, the ground in Europe is shifting. There is a greater understanding that this is primarily a refugee crisis, which raises moral and legal obligations that must be met by the Member States. As President Juncker said in his quite remarkable State of the Union address yesterday morning, Europe cannot turn its back on people fleeing from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, Eritrea or Afghanistan.
But the lack of an effective and coordinated response by the EU and many of its individual Member States has increased the suffering for the refugees and migrants involved. Germany, Sweden and Austria are notable exceptions, where refugees were finally welcomed with the support and dignity they so deserve. Many EU Member States have turned their back on refugees, or erected fences or other impediments to a humane reception. On the Greek islands, for example, the Greek government continues to fail to meet its basic humanitarian obligations, and the EU continues to move too slowly to provide Greece with the solidarity and financial support it needs for an appropriate response.
This lack of positive reaction by many Member States is in sharp contrast to the spontaneous outpouring of solidarity by Europe’s citizens, residents and NGOs. Civil society has long been a backbone for the European asylum system, and the most recent humanitarian responses by “simple Europeans,” – from Budapest to Belgrade, from Munich to Salzburg, from Iceland to Belgium –has been nothing short of extraordinary. NGOs and volunteers have quickly stepped in where authorities have been unwilling or unable to respond.
Special recognition must be given to Germany and Chancellor Merkel, for the decision by the German government to allow thousands of refugees leaving the harsh conditions in Hungary to apply for asylum in Germany, in addition to its current commitments on relocation, resettlements and private family reunification schemes, is a shining example of solidarity in an ever darkening official Europe. Likewise, the personal leadership now being displayed by the Chancellor is a trend that Europe’s leaders need to follow.
As President Juncker mentioned in his address, additional channels for refugees to reach Europe in a safe and legal manner are necessary, as well as significantly increased resettlement by all EU Member States. A mechanism to replace Dublin and promote a fair sharing of responsibility is needed to respond to situations of mass arrivals. A relocation mechanism from Italy, Greece and Hungary is needed in the short term for Europe’s asylum system to again begin to function. In the longer term, structural reforms and an increased effort to improve the quality and resilience of asylum in Member States is needed to uphold the fundamental right in Europe to access a fair and efficient asylum procedure.
Our report will show that more Europe is indeed needed for the asylum system to operate. The injustice is that today refugees are caught squarely in Europe’s solidarity crisis.
Now I’d like to introduce Minos Mouzourakis who will provide a quick overview of the results of the Annual Report, followed by Kris Pollet who will provide a policy perspective. Short presentations will be given by ECRE member organization from France, Hungary, Greece and Switzerland, to be followed by an open question and answer session.