The George Soros solution for the humanitarian disaster of Mediterranean sea graves

31 October 2015 12:44 pm

Billionaire George Soros, who was once a refugee, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of his homeland, has outlined steps that the European Union needs to take to address the refugee crisis.

Soros has decried the behaviour of the member states of the EU as “selfishly focused on [their] own interests” with the result of a “panic among asylum seekers, the general public, and the authorities responsible for law and order.”

He says the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly. The EU should provide €15,000 ($A23,133) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs – and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. Where will it find the money? By issuing long-term bonds using its largely untapped AAA borrowing capacity. He says the EU must lead the global effort to provide adequate funding to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to support the four million refugees currently living in those countries. It also has to establish an EU Asylum and Migration Agency to establish common rules for employment and entrepreneurship, as well as consistent benefits; and develop an effective, rights-respecting return policy for migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Finally, to absorb and integrate more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year, the EU needs to mobilize the private sector – NGOs, church groups, and businesses – to act as sponsors.

The time to act is now. The latest reports tell us that 19 migrants have drowned off the Aegean islands with worsening weather turning wind-whipped sea corridors into deadly passages for thousands of refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece. At least three more people died when another migrant boat sank off the nearby island of Rhodes, and three more were missing. On the islet of Agathonissi, a fisherman recovered the body of a boy missing from yet another accident on Wednesday. Greece has been the transit point for more than 500,000 refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and beyond this year, triggering bickering among European nations at odds on how to deal with one of the biggest humanitarian crises in decades.

The death toll in the Aegean over the past three days has now reached nearly 50, mostly children. Indeed, the images of children struggling to stay alive haunt the divided Europe, which still discuss the quotas of the number of refugees for each country.

Meanwhile, Europe is tearing itself apart. Germany, for example, has acknowledged it will likely accept at least 800,000 refugees this year, while Hungary hastily built a fence to try to keep the refugees out. Austria and Slovenia are also building a fence.

This summer, Berlin came under fire from right-wing EU leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration announced refugees would be welcomed in Germany even if their passports had not been stamped in their country of arrival. Orban blamed the German announcement — which Budapest deemed illegal under EU law — for the tens of thousands of refugees who crammed Hungarian train stations and overwhelmed border crossings hoping to reach Germany in the weeks that followed.

The refugee crisis is splitting Europe in the way that the debt crisis never could. With Greece you could sweep it under the carpet: just allow Greece to rack up more debt. But you can’t sweep hundreds of thousands of refugees under the carpet. Their fate will rest with European states deciding what they want out of their statehood and membership in the European Union. And that raises big questions about the future of the EU.

What’s needed is a European solution to the crisis. George Soros has given us some valuable ideas about what can be done. Not doing anything could destroy the EU.