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Can Europe balance the migrant crisis with countries’ needs?

European leaders are meeting in Brussels to work on a unified response to the migrant crisis. Hari Sreenivasan talks to William Swing of the International Organization for Migration and European Union Ambassador David O'Sullivan about the contentious negotiations and the enormous challenge ahead.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We take a closer look at Europe's approach to the crisis with William Swing, director-general of the International Organization for Migration and former U.S. diplomat, and David O'Sullivan, the European Union's ambassador to Washington.

    Ambassador O'Sullivan, I want to start with you.

    What's happening in Europe right now seems a tension between sovereignty and solidarity. You have got countries like Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia saying that this idea to distribute 120,000 migrants across their countries undermines their independence.

  • DAVID O’SULLIVAN, Ambassador, European Union:

    Well, we are having a healthy discussion, as we often do in Europe, about how to deal with this particular crisis.

    This is a global crisis. Europe and a number of our member states find themselves at the sharp end of one aspect of it, which is the sudden increase in asylum seekers arriving initially through the Mediterranean and now by land. We are having to cope with this, find ways of taking the pressure off those front-line member states. There was an important decision taken yesterday.

    Of course, this is not easy for some of our member states. But I would like to emphasize what Europe has been doing in terms of addressing the problem in the Mediterranean with search and rescue, nearly 122,000 lives saved, with a naval effort to try and break the smugglers who are exploiting the people, assistance to Italy and Greece to help them cope with this.

    And, of course, we should not lose sight of the fact that the real problem lies elsewhere. It lies in Syria and, of course, it lies in the many millions of people, instead of just hundreds of thousands, who are displaced living both in Syria and in the neighboring countries who have had to shoulder an enormous burden. Europe is one of the largest donors to those countries to try and help them, but we need to do more, all of us.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ambassador Swing, what happens to people when they are sent to countries that have clearly said they don't want these people there?

    WILLIAM SWING, International Organization for Migration: Well, as Ambassador O'Sullivan was mentioning, this is an evolutionary process.

    I think we are encouraged by the evolution of Europe's policy, particularly since April of last year, when the emphasis became that of saving life, the increase of the number of ships out trying to do search and rescue, and then the big decision yesterday on the 100 and — bringing the number of relocations up to 160,000.

    It's a long way to go. And this is really the short-term aspect of the policy. Europe is still trying to pursue a very elusive objective of a common migration and asylum policy, so a good deal way to go there.

    But we also need to keep it in perspective. We're at 480,000 now, I think, who have come into Europe, into the E.U. But we also need to remember that countries like Ethiopia, 700,000 refugees, Kenya 400,000, Sudan 200,000. And little Lebanon, with five million inhabitants, has more than a million they're hosting.

    So, we need to keep it in perspective. It's really not so much a problem to be solved, as a human reality that has to be managed by sensible people. And we're very pleased to see that so many of the European Union states did agree now to the formula of 120,000 — 160,000.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ambassador O'Sullivan, as you mentioned earlier and as Ambassador Swing just mentioned, what about the rest of those populations? I mean, 120,000 sounds like a big number, but 80 percent to 90 percent of even just the Syrian refugees are sitting in Turkey, in Jordan, in Lebanon. Right now, when they look at their TVs and they see this opportunity to come to Europe, this might be the time for them.

  • DAVID O’SULLIVAN:

    Well, I think that, indeed, the situation of those displace people is — has to be our top priority.

    But the fact is that the international agencies, UNHCR and the World Food Program in particular, have basically run out of money. The European Union has announced today its intention to increase even beyond the four billion that we have been giving until now. And the United States is also a major donor in the area. We need to do more. We're calling on the international community to step up and give more money to the Food Program, to the UNHCR.

    We have created a trust fund for Syria which we hope other countries will contribute to. We put $1.8 billion into a trust fund for Africa to help with the countries that Ambassador Swing was talking about, because sub-Saharan Africa is also a potential crisis point.

    So, yes, this is a global crisis. And Europe is experiencing the consequences of it in one way, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we really do need to create conditions to help Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in particular give the people who are there decent food, shelter, medical care and so forth, while we try to solve the political problem in Syria, which would hopefully enable as many people as possible to come home.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And, Ambassador O'Sullivan, staying with you just for a second, is this threatening the very notion of the Schengen area, the 22 countries that now allow free travel between them, when you see one country deciding to put up barbed wire fence, another country starting to ask for passport controls?

  • DAVID O’SULLIVAN:

    No, it's not at all.

    The free movement within Europe is one of our great achievements. Of course, in a moment of crisis and a moment of great difficulty, coping with large numbers of asylum seekers, temporary controls can be reintroduced, but the commission today called for these to be progressively dismantled as we try to put in place the means to help member states deal with this situation, including helping them process all of the applications, because these people, once they look for asylum, there is a quite complex legal process which has to be followed, which is quite labor-intensive.

    And we are proposing to help the member states who are challenged in this way to process these people correctly and to make sure that they are kept in the best conditions possible during that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ambassador Swing, what about the notion that many of these countries have is, listen, security concerns, economic concerns, political concerns before letting thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in?

  • WILLIAM SWING:

    There is no question that a lot of the policies today are being driven by an unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment afoot in the world, not just in Europe, but in other countries.

    It's driven by the fears of the 2008-2009 economic downturn, when perhaps one's going to lose one's job. It's driven by the 9/11 — the post-9/11 security syndrome, where people are afraid, obviously, of terrorists coming in.

    It's also driven by a sense of the loss of personal or national identity. And I think, with all of these, there are ways to address this. These are stereotypes that don't really meet the reality that, historically, migration has always been overwhelmingly positive. And we need to get back to a positive narrative in the public, rather than the toxic narrative that we have now.

    And to do this, we're going to have to help everyone to learn to manage inexorably growing cultural, ethnic, religious diversity within our countries.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Ambassador Swing and Ambassador O'Sullivan, thanks so much for joining us.

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