Editorial: Waiting for Europe

Yesterday, the European Commission published yet another version of its Common European Asylum System, detailing ‘fair and efficient’ procedure to ensure the rights of asylum seekers are protected in every EU country they set foot in. That good intentions are too rarely followed through is perhaps the common theme in refugee and migration policy in European countries today.

Greece and Italy have been the two European Union countries left to cope with the bulk of new arrivals, despite a lack of decent infrastructure to quickly process asylum applications and squalid conditions at refugee camps. With this in mind, the European Commission pledged to relocate 160,000 refugees from these two countries (and other countries in the Balkans struggling to cope) by September 2017. They should be relocating around 6,000 people a month. So far, nearly a year on, and Europe has managed just 3,056. At this rate it will take decades to resettle the hundreds of thousands of refugees stuck in limbo in the muddy transit areas of Europe’s borders.

Just this morning, Human Rights Watch reported that Hungary is summarily sending refugees back across the border to Serbia, without considering their asylum claims, sometimes using violence. Men, women and children have been kicked and beaten, sprayed with gas and chased by dogs, the NGO said. Such incidents aren’t isolated. For the one million plus refugees who arrived in Europe since the start of last year, misery and uncertainty, difficulties in accessing rights, are par for the course.

Today, Lacuna publishes an exclusive report from the borders of northern Greece where tens of thousands refugees waited for Macedonia to open its borders, so they could travel to northern Europe. Photojournalist Dario Sabaghi witnessed the final days of the Idomeni camp before the Greek government ordered its evacuation back in May. The stories reveal despair but also hope of the refugees as they await their fate while bureaucrats drag their feet in Brussels.

What happens once refugees finally reach their desired destination? Kim Harrisberg reports from Germany, the only European country to say ‘refugees welcome’, where she finds shadows of the country’s past influencing policy towards the new arrivals. Harrisberg’s fascinating and wide ranging report illustrates that welcoming refugees is more complicated than simply open borders, social infrastructure such as schools and language services are essential if the policy is to work. Harrisberg also delves into the rise of far right group Pegida and how this has impacted Germany’s attitudes to refugees, and the possible threat to the welcome programme.

Here in the UK, I report on a specific aspect of migration policy and how it affects foreign national women fleeing domestic violence. A timely piece with Theresa May newly appointed prime minister and responsible for managing Brexit. There are concerns about the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK based on comments May made recently. One way to assess how fairly she’ll treat EU nationals is to look at her record as Home Secretary. During her six years as Home Secretary (the longest serving Home Secretary for over 60 years) May never fixed a loophole in the law which sees hundreds of migrant women forced to stay in violent relationships or facing destitution and homelessness.

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi is a freelance journalist and writer-in-residence at Lacuna. Rebecca has been published by a range of publications including openDemocracy, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Washington Post, the New Internationalist, and the Socialist Lawyer. Rebecca's reporting on immigration and asylum across the European Union was shortlisted for the 2012 George Orwell Prize for Political Writing (blog category) and the 2013 Speaking Together Media Award. In 2012 Rebecca published Gardens, a collaboration with photographer Christina Theisen. The pamphlet illuminates the experiences of environmental activists in London fighting to save the city’s biodiversity, while tackling social inequality. Rebecca's reporting exposing the impact of government policy on ordinary lives was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize 2015. @Rebecca_Omonira

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