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The European Union must unite to solve the refugee crisis – Heinz Fassmann

Heinz Fassmann talks at the FCC about the refugee crisis in Europe Heinz Fassmann talks at the FCC about the refugee crisis in Europe

The European refugee crisis is dividing the continent and is more serious politically than the financial crisis, according to Austrian migration expert Heinz Fassmann, guest speaker at the November 2 club lunch.

Effective border control and measures to ensure asylum is provided to those that need it most are two of the ways in which to ease the crisis, he said. In effect, the European Union must unite to enforce its humanitarian obligation to help the refugees, said Fassmann, an expert from the University of Vienna.

The audience at the talk titled Europe vs The Refugees: What Next? was told that currently Germany, Sweden and Austria take in the most refugees, with an intake in 2015 of 900,000, 160,000 and 90,000 respectively. All of these countries are on the Balkan route, the most popular for refugees until March this year when it was closed. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are also the countries that offer the highest benefits to asylum seekers, with Austria offering €850 per month and Germany €450 plus payment of rent.

It costs Germany €20 billion a year, and Austria €2 billion.

These factors, Fassmann explained, have put huge financial and social pressure on ‘hotspot’ countries which in turn has been a factor the rise of Right wing politics in Europe. A further contributing factor to the negativity surrounding the migration of millions of refugees fleeing war-torn places such as Syria could be put down media coverage, he said. The point at which media coverage turned away from an understanding of a humanitarian crisis was New Year 2015 when reports began appearing on social media of sexual harassment of Germans in Cologne linked to the influx of African refugees. Once the press picked up the story, attitudes within the media became negative.

Other issues unsettling Europe include the social and cultural differences between indigenous populations and asylum seekers. Studies have found that an overwhelming majority refugees are religious and favour a combination of state and religious leadership. Furthermore, there are fears that asylum seekers won’t gain employment in countries of refuge, further adding to the economic burden. Studies show that a majority of refugees from Afghanistan, for example, are illiterate and have only basic education. Those from Syria, however, are better qualified, Fassmann said.

He added that he believed that long term the influx would be beneficial to EU member states as young people would help bolster the workforce.

He said: “These are young people. They want to work. They want to learn. There could be potential for ageing countries where the baby boomers will enter into retirement.”

Among some of the solutions suggested by Fassmann were:

  • reduce attractiveness for asylum seekers by offering non-cash benefits, temporary asylum and a limitation of family reunification
  • governments combat the cause of the problem i.e. find peaceful solutions to the conflicts currently engulfing some countries
  • Improve the living conditions in refugee camps to stem the flow of those seeking refuge in Europe
  • control external EU borders and establish ‘hotspots’ where refugees are registered
  • Speed up repatriation to transit countries such as Turkey
  • introduce integration measures for accepted asylum seekers such as teaching European languages and helping them to understand a democratic, secular and liberal society
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