Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, published an article with the title “You’re better than this, Europe” in which he openly criticizes Europe’s current response to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.  The articled appeared in the New York Times at the end of June 2015.

The Commissioner starts by stating that the European countries “once shattered by war and atrocities”  have been in the process of rebuilding the continent”according to the values of solidarity and human rights”. Moreover,  Europe “built institutions to prevent the crimes of the past” and “made a commitment to help those in need of protection”, commitment which has sadly been forgotten.

He states that “many member countries greeted the European Commission’s recent proposal of mandatory quotas for redistributing asylum seekers with open hostility”. By repackaging the issue of migration as a security problem, European leaders proposed to strengthen the powers of the European Union border agency, Frontex, to fingerprint, detain and forcibly remove migrants.

The Commissioner also highlights that practices such as outsourcing border controls to countries with an absent or week democracy or putting pressure on European countries that are not member states, lead to “the adoption of unlawful measures like ethnic profiling at border crossings, the confiscation of travel documents and physical measures to repel migrants.”

The Commissioner points out that with a population estimated at more than 740 million, Europe cannot be threatened by the idea of admitting 600,000 asylum seekers a year.  While Europe is characterized by richness and stability, countries which are much poorer and less stable such as Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia experience much higher pressure in receiving refugees.

“No European Union member state ranks among the 10 major refugee-hosting countries.”

The Commissioner makes the following recommendations to Europe

  • opening safe routes for migrants “with measures like eased humanitarian visas and family reunification rules” with the outcome

“That would help cut the ground from beneath the feet of smugglers, who grow richer when migration restrictions are harsh.”

  • legislative changes to ensure a human approach in contrast with the criminalization of migrants
  • improved migration policies
  • a European-run Mare Nostrum mission to ensure extensive search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean
  • embrace the proposals made by the United Nations refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, especially on the need to resettle people fleeing oppression and in need of protection.
  • address public anxiety about migration and asylum
  • political leaders and opinion makers should confront the issue from a principled standpoint – the values of tolerance, acceptance and solidarity have defined the European project.