Thank you for contacting me concerning the refugee crisis. I believe that there needs to be a European response to this issue, a view which my fellow Greens in the European Parliament have consistently voiced.
As I explained in this article, I call on governments to respond to the compassionate calls for action by citizens throughout Europe. We need EU policy-makers to show leadership in terms of solidarity: to co-operate in accepting refugees and in finding them safe routes to asylum, something the European Greens have consistently argued for. The European Commission and European Parliament are in clear agreement about the need for fixed quotas for member states; a plan that is jeopardized when national governments respond to right-wing rather than compassionate forces in their own countries.
The distinction between economic migrants and asylum seekers is important. Refugees from war-torn countries of the Middle East need asylum on a temporary basis, until the countries they call home can re-establish security and guarantee freedom from oppression. We have a duty under international law to accept refugees who are seeking safety from conflict or human rights abuses.
I am mindful that the statistics show that many other European countries are accepting far more refugees than we are in Britain, and I do not appreciate the precedent of richer countries shying away from their responsibility to host refugees. Britain has a proud history of offering asylum, and the wave of compassion that has swept through our country in response to this crisis is something that has moved me. Indeed, back in October 2015, in my home city of Stroud, the Greens put forward a motion to the District Council, proposing to accept five to ten refugee families as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
The response by David Cameron and his government, on the other hand, has failed to live up to our historically high standards. Alongside many other UK MEPs, I co-signed a letter to Cameron, calling on him to cooperate with other EU countries in the resettlement of refugees, ending the shameful attempts to ‘opt-out’ of a responsible and coordinated response. Here, the UK Government should follow the example of its many compassionate citizens.
With globalisation and the increased ease of global travel, it is crucial to tackle the underlying issues of why people are fleeing their own countries. Yet much of Britain’s foreign policy – including involvement in wars and supplying of arms – does not help with the crucial peacebuilding and development that is needed to reduce people fleeing to the West in hope of sanctuary. Our role should be to support UN efforts in bringing about strong governments in the region, not taking the misguided ‘coalition of the willing’ route and running a foreign policy based on self-interest and the demands of the oil and arms industries. An international approach where all countries work together to both accept their fair share of refugees and address the underlying reasons that people are leaving their homes is crucial.
In the European Parliament, my colleagues Ska Keller and Judith Sargentini MEPs lead for the Greens on issues of migration and refugees. Ska recently advocated the relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy based on a binding distribution key, calling for solidarity and cooperation between the EU states. In the final vote in plenary, her proposal was supported by a large majority of MEPs. Last September, MEPs also passed a resolution addressing the crisis, calling on EU home affairs ministers to endorse a binding scheme for redistribution of refugees.
In the European Parliament, the Greens and I will continue to push for a humane response to this crisis, recognising the failings of the current asylum and migration policies and stressing the need to create a system of safe and legal migration to Europe.
This is an issue I hope to work on and take further action on over coming months.