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  • Rory O'Keeffe

UN, Amnesty, call for Europe and US to do more to help refugees

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has visited Washington DC to request the US does more to ‘show leadership’ on the issue of refugees.

It means that in the last two days, UNHCR has called on Germany – planning a refugee cap (of 200,000) for the next year, with a freeze on family reunions for people given ‘subsidiary status’, and Europe’s richest nation – and the US (planning a refugee cap of 45,000 people, planning a freeze on family reunions, world’s richest state) to do more and to set a greater example.

It will, therefore, be interesting to see whether it will also request leadership from China and Japan, the other two of the world’s wealthiest nations. Japan is extremely generous in aid donations, but has accepted just three out of more than 8,000 refugees in the first six months of this year. China is also a generous donor, but has a similar record on actually accepting refugees.

Germany has recently held elections, and is negotiating towards a new governing coalition, while the US’ 120 day ban on refugee arrivals is ending today. But Japan has also just held elections, and China is embarking on both a new period of ‘internationalism’ and of internal reforms, so those states may also be at a stage where ‘guidance’ could be effective.

More to the point, however, the request is both reasonable and sensible. Not only can these states, as the world’s richest, afford to do more, their high profiles and wealth means that if they refuse to help, smaller (and less wealthy) states will feel inclined to do less, also.

In the EU, for example, the UK’s outright refusal, as the EU’s second-wealthiest state (the world’s fifth-richest), to engage properly in relocating refugees from Syria, Iraq and other states, gave Spain, Denmark, and to an even greater extent Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Austria, an ‘excuse’ to do the same.

The bitter irony is that these states’ refusal has then handed the German far-Right ammunition to stop Germany from helping, saying ‘no-one else helps, why should we?’ And ‘we cannot be the sole helper in Europe’. It does not matter that these are not the genuine reasons for the far-Right’s refusal to help: they are the clothes with which it hides its naked racism.

In turn, German politicians, afraid of a rise in far-Right views, have now chosen to cap refugee entrances, as if carrying out policies the far-Right likes will prevent the rise of the far-Right. Very few political decisions taken anywhere have no impact on developments elsewhere in the world.

There is no reason why the world’s wealthiest states cannot give refugees safe places to live, and therefore no justification for those states’ breaking of international law.

Grandi said: ‘The Refugee Convention says in its needs preamble that refugees are a collective, international responsibility. So we all do bear part of that responsibility. But in more practical terms, I would say that, first of all, it's the resource issue. And second, we need political clout, especially in negotiating with both Bangladesh and Myanmar. We will count, as I've said to the administration, on U.S. leadership, as in many other situations.’

Simultaneously, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty has used a trip to Hungary to blame Hungary’s government for spreading far-Right ideology across Europe, and for giving states elsewhere in the world an ‘excuse’ not to act.

He explained: ‘The (Hungarian government) spends large sums of public money on these hate mongering campaigns that they try to confuse the people with, while they don’t fulfil their international obligations regarding refugees.

‘It is not just some political party in Hungary representing this ideology, as in the case Germany or France, but the prime minister himself. This encourages a lot of people who think similarly to him in Europe, but has an influence on the developing world as well.‘When I travel to Africa, Asia, South America, and sit down to negotiate with the leaders there, they ask why I am educating them when we cannot even handle the Hungarian situation.’

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban refused to meet Shetty.

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