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Europe Refugee Crisis: What's happening now and what you can do about it

Out of sight, out of mind? One year on from the EU-Turkey deal, refugees’ lives are on hold. Here’s what we need to do:

Photo: Jodi Hilton

The refugee crisis on Europe's shores may now attract less interest but nonetheless continues. Lives are hanging in the balance – and futures are on hold.

Monday marks the one year anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal – a bad deal for refugees that has led to suffering and indignity.

And one year on, it's clear that European leaders can - and must - do more to help people fleeing war and persecution find safety, and not be pushed into the hands of smugglers.

As we mark the first anniversary, here’s what you need to know about the deal, the current situation in Europe and how you can help:

1. What is the EU-Turkey deal? Why is it a bad deal for refugees?

The implementation of the EU-Turkey deal last March, coupled with the closing of borders along the Western Balkan route, left refugees stranded, their lives in limbo – with little in the way of legal alternatives to  seek sanctuary. The borders closed, without safe alternatives.

This is a bad deal for refugees: eroding their rights, exposing people to risk and abuse, and causing human suffering, as this new report shows.

Whilst our leaders are focused on stopping people from arriving at any cost, their focus should be on providing legal routes for people fleeing conflict and persecution to find safety.

Now is not the time to step back and shirk the responsibility to offer protection – and hope – to people who desperately need it.

This is not a humanitarian crisis – but a crisis of political will, as the new UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres has said.

We can’t expect Greece, Italy and the Balkans to shoulder the responsibility for this crisis on their own. Together, we must make sure that Europe offers a welcome – a home and some hope to stranded refugees.

Hope, when a direct result of border closures and the EU Turkey deal has meant thousands of families are now being kept apart. At Kara Tepe on the Greek island of Lesbos, women are traveling alone with their children and are trying to reach family already in other parts of Europe. Across mainland Greece we are seeing vulnerable refugees in similar circumstances.

2. What are we losing out on?

People have spent up to an entire year of their lives stranded on Greek islands, many sheltered in tents and overcrowded facilities, even during freezing winter weather. Children, women and men continue to be exposed to risks to their health and wellbeing daily, and many have limited access to basic services such as medical and psychological support to help overcome hardships and trauma, as well as the education children need.

Basic human rights are at risk. On Lesbos, a pilot project is underway in which asylum seekers from six nationalities may be detained upon arrival allegedly to expedite the processing of their applications.

Lives on hold mean futures – and human potential – is being squandered.

What if the next president, prime minister, world leader is a 16 year old now living in a warehouse in Belgrade. What if the next Sergey Brin, founder of Google, or Albert Einstein, instrumental in the creation of the IRC, is right now making their way through dangerous routes across Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia in the hopes of getting to western Europe, and solely because there are no legal, controlled alternatives to reach safety. 

Many of the refugees now stranded across Greece and the Balkans have skills and talent to offer – from school teachers to lawyers, from nurses to doctors. If they are relocated to another country or granted asylum, they must be given the chance to pursue their chosen careers and in so doing contribute to their new communities in a concrete and substantial way. Let's not shut them out.

3. What can Europe do?

Without legal ways for refugees to find a safe haven, desperate refugees will continue to seek out even more dangerous routes.

As of mid-January, there are around 7,800 refugees in Serbia (and more than 13,000 across countries along the Balkan route), most of whom are attempting to transit through the country using smugglers or on a waiting list for legal entry into Hungary—a country allowing just 10 people per weekday across the border, and prioritizing families. Additionally, the smuggling route from Libya and Italy is expanding.

That’s why we're calling for an unconditional and long term resettlement scheme, in which Europe takes in 108,000 refugees per year for five years.

We need to help refugees integrate into communities, giving them the tools they need to restart their lives. Programmes like cultural orientation, family mentorship, and refugee youth academies are essential to ensure the successful integration of refugees into their new communities. Welcome programmes can also benefit new communities, making sure refugees and their new communities have opportunities to integrate in Europe.

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