French prime minister Manuel Valls has warned that thousands of refugees fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and seeking sanctuary “cannot be welcomed in Europe”. To do so, he added would “endanger the European project”. In an interview with the BBC, he was asked whether this meant that the Schengen area – that allows for passport free travel without border checks in most European countries – was effectively dead. “No, it’s Europe that can die, not the Schengen area”, he replied. The broadcast came shortly before the tragic news of the drowning of 42 refugees in shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea.
The inflammatory remarks have been condemned on social media. Harry Leslie Smith, the British Second World War veteran and well known socialist activist tweeted:
— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) January 22, 2016
Another Twitter user added that the majority of refugees fleeing the crises in the Middle East and North Africa have not made it to Europe but are in neighbouring countries:
— Nando Sigona (@nandosigona) January 22, 2016
Zoe Gardner, a migrant rights activist and spokesperson for Another Europe Is Possible said:
“The EU is not under threat from the arrival of people fleeing war and persecution hoping to build new lives here. What we are witnessing is the utter failure of EU governments to respond appropriately and share responsibility for providing sanctuary to refugees.
“The concept of solidarity, not only with refugees and the countries they are fleeing, but between EU member states, is meant to be the basis of the Common European Asylum System. But this has been completely ignored by our governments, determined to wash their hands of their responsibilities. The ‘crisis’ is being driven by a race to the bottom to close borders and escalate racist statements. This nationalism and xenophobia, not internationalism and humanitarianism, truly threatens the European project.
“Manuel Valls does not make clear how EU states could legally stop receiving refugees without breaching their responsibilities under international law. He speaks as though the idea of ‘closing our borders’ were a brand new suggestion when in fact incalculable sums have been spent over decades attempting to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching EU shores with no success and at the unacceptable cost of more and more human lives.
“Just this morning dozens more have drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Greece. How many more lives need to be lost before we abandon ‘closed borders’? Where are the refugees who currently risk their lives in clandestine journeys into and through the EU supposed to disappear to, according to Mr Valls? Does he expect Turkey to simply host them all indefinitely? Does he expect to build a border fence high enough to make them turn back to a war zone?
“The answer to this displacement crisis lies in developing rational, realistic and long-term solutions, investing in the management of asylum reception and procedures, and acting in genuine solidarity across EU states to share the numbers of arrivals in a way that ensures no state is over-burdened. Not in burying our heads in the sand with false, authoritarian goals of closed boarders, stoking up fear and prejudice against a largely imagined threat.”
22nd January 2016