Thousands of lives continue to be lost on our continent. In most cases, these losses take place away from the cameras. Nevertheless, each fatality is a separate tragedy and an insupportable loss. The only wish among the people risking their lives is to escape war and persecution. As a result of our own failures and fears, they continue to die in our continent, where they came to seek refuge. How have we come to this?
It is clear that the European Union and its member states have reacted extremely late. On August 6 I sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in which I asked him to convene an emergency summit of the leaders of the EU. I still have not received any response, which might appear to represent inadequate concern. However, we must not fall into a misunderstanding. The lack of a response is not the fault of the institutions of the EU, which have attempted to propose a broader approach, including better distributing the refugees throughout the European Union.
The only hope is that the cries of the citizens can influence the internal calculations of the political leaders.
Skepticism towards taking necessary action has come from the European governments themselves -- from certain governments, in particular -- that don't even want to consider a genuine European effort for fear of projecting an image of domestic weakness. While thousands of European citizens have organized to provide aid -- thus giving a true lesson in solidarity to the entire political class -- the lack of decisions has only worsened the crisis. Why? Because domestic politics dominates the issue, and this has reduced our capacity to fulfill our international obligations to protect those in need.
Despite growing pressure, David Cameron has not agreed to play a role in the EU response, which the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) would denounce. The Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, doesn't want to cooperate either, because he is faced with a party, Jobbik, that is further to the right than his own. Mariano Rajoy has also resisted a system of mandatory distribution because the general elections in Spain are just around the corner, and we all know that making firm political decisions can lead to a major loss of votes. Putting domestic politics before the the collective interest has brought us to this paralysis.
The only hope is that the cries of the citizens can influence the internal calculations of the political leaders. Following the shocking images coming from Turkey this past week, the nationalist approach pursued by many European leaders is completely inappropriate. Even though the opinions of the citizens and the media are changing, I still find it hard to believe that our leaders have finally understood that, if we want to manage this crisis, we need a completely new European approach.
We need a permanent system of resettlement for asylum seekers that is more balanced among all European member states.
First, we must do more to confront the root of the problem. Let's be clear: it wasn't unrestricted movement nor the establishment of the Schengen area that caused this dilemma. Relating the refugee crisis with the right to move freely enjoyed by Europeans in the Schengen area is a mistake. War, persecution and the brutality of Assad and ISIL have caused this crisis. We must work collectively to find a long term solution in this region.
Secondly, the leaders of the EU must face reality: there is no model for regulating migration and asylum at the the European level. We need a reform now. The dysfunctional Dublin Regulation must be replaced by measures that function and operate within the framework of the EU. We also need a permanent system of resettlement for asylum seekers that is more balanced among all European member states. There are signs that this week, the European Commission will present a system of quotas for 160,000 refugees. Personally, I don't believe that it should be limited to a fixed number. There should be a permanent system that is able to handle the many requests by people in need of protection.
We also need to strengthen the Frontex agency so that it can efficiently perform its role at the borders of the EU, and save lives at sea. Frontex can not continue to rely on volunteer contributions. EU member states should be obligated to contribute.
Furthermore, we must increase humanitarian aid to Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey in order to help the refugee camps. There should also be safe areas created in the conflict zones that enable refugees to apply for humanitarian visas. The establishment of safe and legal routes to the EU is also urgent.
Finalizing a political agreement to implement these measures will be complicated -- even just to establish a basic approach. Leaders like David Cameron, Viktor Orban and Mariano Rajoy will be required to accept more refugees. However, they still won't sign an agreement for a more just European system. That would require them to confront internal enemies. Unless the politics of hope and compassion can supersede the politics of fear, Europe will continue walking toward a storm of ever greater proportions.
The very structure of our union is in danger. In the absence of strong leadership, it is time to reflect on our turbulent past and to learn some lessons from history. It wasn't very long ago that millions of European citizens were forced to flee war and political persecution. Spaniards, Hungarians, Czechs and Italians abandoned their homes in order to save their lives. And they were welcomed with open arms in other countries on the continent.
We know what must be done. For the good of mankind and the Union that we have created together, we must unite now to protect those who need it most.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain and was translated into English.