Europe cannot allow a two-tier system for refugees to settle

On March 1, 2022, the bodies of six people washed up on the shores of the island of Lesvos in Greece. These people died in search of safety and refuge, trying to reach the EU in search of international protection from conflict or oppression.

Seeking international protection is a human right, enshrined in EU law and yet there are almost no safe ways to come to the EU to do so, and the EU has stopped search and rescue operations that had saved lives.

Everyone has the right to seek asylum, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or country of origin.

On that same day in March, EU officials were preparing to activate – unanimously and for the first time in its history – the Temporary Protection Directive, an essential and life-saving mechanism allowing people fleeing violence in Ukraine to access a three-year residency. permits, education and employment in any EU country, without having to have individual asylum applications assessed.

Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland and a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The contrast between EU leaders’ responses to different groups of refugees is stark and disturbing – and goes beyond safe and legal passage.

This difference has even been recognized by EU leaders. At the press conference announcing the agreement to activate the Temporary Protection Directive, the Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs said: “… if you compare to 2015”, refugees arriving in the EU from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and other places of conflict were left in limbo because “just getting their asylum claim processed could take years. Today, it’s only been a week since he [the Ukraine crisis] started and we adopted a directive on temporary protection. They [those fleeing Ukraine] can work, they can benefit from housing assistance. Children can go to school, there will be no waiting time here. It’s really important.

Everyone is right

The Temporary Protection Directive is a historic and welcome change in the EU’s response to refugees. People fleeing Ukraine should not have to live in anxious limbo, waiting to find out if they will be allowed to take refuge in the EU or sent back to the danger they have just escaped.

But no one else should either. Everyone has the right to seek asylum, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or country of origin. No human life is more valuable or deserving than another and the law applies equally to all of us.

The Irish government has worked quickly and efficiently to make the arrival of those fleeing Ukraine as smooth as possible, including setting up a one-stop shop for those arriving at Dublin Airport to receive their PPS numbers and letters of protection upon arrival.

The horrific crisis in Ukraine has reminded us of the importance of international protection; how vital it is for innocent people to travel freely to safety, without being plunged back into violence and danger or having their suffering prolonged by being kept in inhumane conditions in camps.

How important it is that the wealthiest countries in the world use their resources to welcome and shelter instead of leaving this responsibility to the poorer countries, and how important it is that international law and human rights are respected.

Why are we being punished, when all we want is to rebuild our lives and be safe in Europe?

Yet violent pushbacks of refugees occur so regularly at EU borders that the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has accused governments of using pushbacks as part of the governance of borders.

The European coastguards are not only accused of pushbacks that are illegal under EU and international law, but they are also accused of sexually and physically abusing refugees and migrants as they push them back from EU borders.

Historical change

We are at a moment of historic change in the EU’s approach to international protection. A moment that brings both danger and opportunity. The danger is that a two-tier racialized protection system takes root in the EU.

One in which the principles of equality central to the crafting of the 1951 Refugee Convention after World War II are set aside and a group experiences the denial of their rights and continued oppression because of their ethnicity or of its origin. It can’t happen.

The opportunity is that now that we have seen what can be achieved for international protection when EU leaders cooperate, the EU becomes a place where international law is respected, all who flee are safely accommodated and dignified, wherever they are. come and people in danger of drowning are rescued from our waters.

During a recent visit to a refugee reception center on the Greek island of Samos, an Afghan refugee posed this question to us and our partners: “Why are we being punished, when everything we want is to rebuild our lives and be safe in Europe? This is a question that those responsible for international protection in the EU must address and ensure that it is never asked again.

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