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Europe should match words with action on human rights

The new EU Commission doesn't seem to be signalling greater integration with a new position it created: "Vice-president for protecting European way of life," a not-so-veiled nod to anti-migration forces across the continent.

By Jon Van Housen & Mariella Radaelli (Euroscope)

Published: Sat 12 Oct 2019, 9:21 PM

Last updated: Sat 12 Oct 2019, 11:26 PM

When the European Union began to take shape in the years following WWII, its founders placed the rights and dignity of man high on the agenda - not surprising after the horrors Europe had just endured. They envisioned a better world where accommodation of different peoples working toward similar ideals would result in something closer to utopia than anything attempted since the American and French revolutions, ambitious movements inspired by some of the most enlightened thinkers of the 18th century.
And like those previous efforts, the EU has fallen far short. The French upheaval brought with it the guillotine and American 'freedom' was founded in part on slavery. The EU has shown through its handling of the migrant crisis that it too is unable to match its high-flown ideals with action.
Today many European nations and the EU still hold forth with speeches on humanitarian ideals to others around the world, but at home they have often failed to turn theory into reality. That was made painfully clear in how they dealt with the surge in refugees that began in 2015.
And what they are doing now to limit the influx.
The realpolitik of today resulted in a deal with Turkey to slow the overland routes of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. In 2016, an agreement between the EU and Turkey to tackle the migrant crisis formally came into effect. In exchange for ?6 billion and easing EU visa restrictions on Turkish citizens, Turkey agreed to accept returned illegal migrants and seal its borders to staunch the flow of further refugees.
Whether termed realistic or cynical, the deal has now blown up in Europe's face.
Following Turkey's incursion into Kurdish-held areas of Syria last week, it met European protests of its action with threats to send millions of Syrian refugees to Europe.
"Hey EU, wake up. I say it again - if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple," said Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "We will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you."
Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, is another example. Its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has positioned himself as the bloc's most anti-migration leader and built Western Europe's most extensive border wall. It was erected only 16 years after another sealed border in the country was opened allowing the free flow of people between the former communist-bloc nation and the West.
Though on a much smaller scale, the EU also struck a clearly cynical deal to stem the flow of refugees from North Africa. A meeting in Catania, Sicily in 2017 on the migrant crisis welcomed - knowingly or unknowingly - one of the most notorious human traffickers in Libya. In May that year, Abd Al Rahman Milad, known as "Bija", took part in the meeting organised by the UN's International Organisation for Migration. Bija was there as part of a delegation from the Libyan coastguard, which left the conference with the promise of four new patrol boats funded by the EU.
But he was not just the coastguard chief from the city of Zawiyah. A UN security report published in 2017 describes Bija as a human trafficker responsible for shootings at sea and suspected of drowning dozens of people. The report characterises him as the leader of a criminal organisation operating in the Zawyah area about 28 miles west of Tripoli.
The revelation might shock the politically correct in Europe, but it is consistent with a well-established pattern. In 2004, the EU cut a deal with Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and lifted all economic sanctions in return for keeping Libya's 1,770-km-long Mediterranean coastline well patrolled to preempt migration.
While promoting itself as a bastion of openness, since the 1960s Europe has struggled to accommodate and integrate refugees. France was the first to receive large numbers of migrants from North Africa when it pulled out of its former colony Algeria. After two or three generations, it seems the country has not only failed at integration, it has succeeded in outright alienation. It has been hit by repeated terrorist attacks from homegrown terrorists.
And France had ample warning of brewing unrest. As far back as the summer of 1983, native-born French Muslims had taken to the streets in the "March for Equality and Against Racism". Today one of its organisers, Bdellaziz Chaamby, says little has changed.
"In France, there isn't a door for young Muslim people born here to integrate into society," he told the press following the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. "Riots in 2005 were a warning sign to the rest of society that things were getting unbearable."
The new EU Commission doesn't seem to be signalling greater integration with a new position it created: "Vice-president for protecting European way of life," a not-so-veiled nod to anti-migration forces across the continent.
Perhaps that's consonant with the feeling of many in the EU, but if so then cut the lectures to other regions. The speeches have a hollow ring. It's time for the EU itself to match word with action.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are editors at www.luminosityitalia.com

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