“It has now been almost two years since the world was confronted with the harrowing image of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach,” wrote Annan. "At that moment, there was an overwhelming sense of “Enough is enough” — a cry of anguish over the misery endured and lives snuffed out as refugees seek safety. In the time since then, thousands more have lost their lives while trying to traverse the Mediterranean, with 2016 becoming the deadliest year on record. Globally, refugees now number more than 22 million.
“Yet the sad truth is that for many, especially in the prosperous Global North, refugees have slipped from the minds of citizens. When they do appear, it’s often because of irresponsible political rhetoric designed to stoke fears rather than foster genuine debate. Citizens of countries witnessing an influx of refugees sometimes feel overwhelmed, concerned that borders are no longer secure and that their jobs and way of life are under threat. Quasi-populist politicians have all too often exploited these fears — when what is needed is responsible leadership shaped by facts, principles and values.
“No one underestimates the challenges of devising a fair and robust shared refugee policy or of balancing humanitarian imperatives with fraught domestic political agendas. Nevertheless, there is a clear need for moral leadership from the E.U., an institution created amidst the rubble of post-war Europe with solidarity at its core.
“The current negotiations on an E.U. Resettlement Framework present an opportunity for precisely this leadership. It is imperative that this framework increases the quantity and quality of resettlement places available, without making this conditional upon third country cooperation with the E.U. on migration controls. The March 2016 EU-Turkey deal, for example, offered resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey, but only in exchange for the forcible return of those arriving on Greek shores. The lives of the world’s most vulnerable refugees cannot be allowed to become a political bargaining chip.
“In his poem “No Man Is An Island,” the English poet John Donne wrote that “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” His words ring true today, some four centuries later. They should guide our global efforts to treat refugees with the respect and dignity they deserve."
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