Editorial Notes

Deal on refugee crisis key to saving thousands of lives: The Nation

Migrants and police during food distribution at the Railway Station in Bicske, Hungary, on Sept 3, 2015.
Migrants and police during food distribution at the Railway Station in Bicske, Hungary, on Sept 3, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on September 4, 2015, The Nation urges EU members to reach a deal on dealing with migrants

By Andrew Sheng
Asia News Network 

Photos of a toddler's lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach have struck a nerve in Europe, where governments are grappling with the continent's biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II.

The discovery of the tiny child lying face down in the sand at one of Turkey's main tourist resorts made headlines around the world, with readers customarily given advance warning that the images might cause distress.

The child is thought to have been one of at least 12 Syrians who died when their small boat sank crossing the Aegean Sea in a bid to reach Greece.

The photos at least served to put a human face to this abhorrent crisis and underscored the risks that tens of thousands of desperate migrants are taking as they board makeshift boats and rubber dinghies to try and reach European shores.

In Britain, residents and news media have launched a petition urging the government to accept more asylum seekers.

"Do something, David!" the Huffington Post's UK edition urged, making a direct plea to British Prime Minister Cameron. Britain has accepted fewer asylum-seekers proportionate to its population than have most other European Union members.

"If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?" Britain's Independent newspaper asked in an editorial, expressing a sentiment echoed in other dailies across the continent.

The 28-member European Union is currently rethinking its rules on asylum, seeking ways to distribute migrants more equitably among its member nations.

More than 160,000 migrants have poured into Europe this year alone.

One expected change would lift a requirement that asylum-seekers register their appeal in the first EU country in which they land.

That directive no longer seems practical, given the massive exodus underway. Many of the migrants have landed in Greece, a country on the verge of bankruptcy, but their intended destinations are further north.

The number of migrants spiked this week, putting an enormous burden on Turkish officials, who stand between them and the possibility of new and better lives in Europe.

The crisis has created immense friction within the EU as members debate how to stem the flow of migrants within their borderless "Schengen" visa-free area.

The idea of abolishing border controls has become a model for other regional groupings around the world, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But in Europe, the merits of a system that permits the relatively free flow of people, goods and services is being put to test by undocumented migrants fleeing military conflict in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Changes are in the pipeline, but we hope they don't sweep away the humanitarian principles for which Europe is known.

Unfortunately, some EU members are already backing away from the Schengen principle, yielding to pressure from nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment among their citizens.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, has said her country can comfortably absorb as many as 800,000 migrants. But Germany shouldn't be left to bear the burden alone.

If EU members can agree that humanitarian principles must prevail in handling this crisis, thousands of deaths can be avoided. Countries like Canada take in a healthy quota of asylum-seekers and refugees on an annual basis, with little sign of damage to society or the economy.

The EU should follow their lead.

* The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers.