Above: JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images
As world leaders meet in New York to pledge their commitment to a global response to the refugee and migration crisis, as the latest ceasefire in Syria collapses after an apparently targeted attack on an aid convoy, and as anti-migrant rhetoric reaches a new high (or low), it is clear we are at a crossroads.
Humanity is experiencing unprecedented levels of movement. A record 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution or oppression; one in every 113 individuals on the planet. And amidst all of this, fears of supposed links between refugees and terrorism run rampant.
In the US, these fears prompted a Texan governor to sue the federal government and refugee resettlement organisations like the International Rescue Committee for continuing to resettle Syrian refugees to the state following the Paris terrorist attacks.
In Europe, open borders have systematically been fenced off, leaving tens of thousands of people stuck in inhumane conditions, waiting months for their asylum applications to be addressed.
Just this week a US presidential candidate’s son made a cheap analogy, comparing human lives to sweets. Across Europe, right-wing parties are gaining ground, and a damaging narrative that conflates desperate asylum seekers with terrorists continues to fuel fears that refugees might import violence and crime.
Refugees are people. Those who have arrived in Europe have done so out of desperation and a lack of legal pathways to claim asylum has forced them to make such difficult decisions and perilous journeys that over 3,000 have died this year alone. It is this flaw in the asylum system that has caused the utter chaos of the European refugee crisis and one of the reasons why the IRC is advocating for safe and legal routes to claim asylum, such as a structured resettlement scheme.
Resettlement has the potential to provide protection, while alleviating unfounded security concerns, through up-front vetting and security clearances. Resettlement has additional benefits; it destroys the business model of ruthless smugglers and traffickers, ensuring that refugees no longer have to rely on underground channels to embark on the risky, and often deadly, journey across the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea, the Balkans or Sahara desert. Arrivals are planned and orderly, giving communities time to prepare for their new neighbours and integrate them properly.
Refugees are people. Those who have arrived in Europe have done so out of desperation
The IRC has been resettling refugees to the US for over 60 years. It is fair to say that refugees who arrive through this process are the most tightly screened and vetted group of immigrants in the US. Therein lies great opportunity for Europe to stay true to its humanitarian values.
Currently, EU member states offer only 9,000 resettlement places each year. Yet the UN Refugee Agency estimates that 1.19 million refugees are in need of resettlement to third countries.
The IRC calculates that the EU can and should offer at least 108,000 resettlement places per year over the next five years. This commitment to resettlement will not resolve the refugee crisis but it will provide a practical tool to bring vulnerable people to safety while eliminating any fears over national security.
As we try to find a way to tackle the global refugee crisis, it is vital we remember that refugees are victims of terror and violence, not perpetrators. They require special protection and have the right to receive it under international humanitarian law.