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Keep the borders open!

This week WILPF has participated in the delegation of theNobel Women’s Initiative #WomenRefugeesWelcome for  a fact-finding mission to the Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. The aim was see first hand what travelling the’ Balkans’ route to Western Europe, was really like for those feeling conflict, and to understand better what support civic and humanitarian groups need in responding to the urgent needs of refugees.

The majority of the thousands of women, men and children passing through every day are fleeing extreme violence and extreme poverty. They are fleeing countries that have been destabilized by; weapons exports, direct military invasion, drone strikes, adventures in ‘regime change’, engagement in proxy wars, economic exploitation, and the coveting of natural resources. The thousands passing through every day are principally seeking safety and stability, they reject war, radicalization and the extremism Europe wants to find a solution for. There is a common goal and they are not the enemy.

The women and men we met all have their personal stories of leaving everything behind, embarking on an extreme and dangerous journey, jeopardizing their lives to find security. Many of them have been traveling for weeks, for months. These thousands of women, men and children now face the possibility of Europe closing its borders. In many countries: Bulgaria, Slovenia and Hungary they are already met with wired fences, armed forces, police brutality, attacks and rejection. Fortunately, this is not the case everywhere and on our journey, we witnessed an amazing humanity from local communities, volunteers and organisations and also a coordinated dignified and human Government lead response in Croatia. These are leading examples of where support should be strengthened.

However, new policies and practices are put in place every day, making it extremely hard to get access to information. So far the EU has not been able to ensure a coordinated response for safe passage of refugees, which inevitable lead to a growing war economy of smugglers, middlemen, and others taking advantage of their desperate situation.

Today the EU interior and justice ministers are meeting in Brussels for an emergency meeting to discuss tightening of the European borders as an emergency measure after the attacks in Paris. The ministers will agree to “implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement,” according to draft conclusions. Reports also show that Macedonia has lead the way in refusing to allow entry to any but Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. Not only is this a clear violation of the Refugee Convention, and human rights law, it is also short-sighted, dangerous and counter productive. Many refugees will be trapped between borders with no way of moving in either direction. They will have no choice but to seek to cross borders illegally. How can borders of thousands of kilometres be effectively policed? The result will be unregistered and therefore ‘illegal asylum seekers” (and there is no such concept in law!) hiding out in Europe. There are direct possibilities of re foulement (being sent back) to the country of origin with potential horrific consequences.

WILPF urges the politicians of the EU to show real leadership. So far, save for those in Sweden and Angel Merkel of Germany they have singularly failed to do so. In their panic, they break laws, destroy values and put at risk thousands of people whose lives they have failed to protect by their failed policies in the Middle East, in particular in Syria and Iraq. Number one is that they must not close the borders. They must progress the Vienna talks, pass resolutions at the Security Council, which address not just ISIL but the barrel bombs of the regime. This will give hope to the refugees that there may be some seriousness to the process. They should increase financial support to refugees in neighbouring countries and prevent the desperation that forces refugees to take the terrible choice of risking everything to survive. 92% of those coming form Syria want to go home but cannot until there is peace.

Do that as a start . There is more, much more that needs to be done and which would make economic and political sense, as well as ensuring compliance with law. ‪We need our leaders to do better.

We echo the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams in saying “We must not let what happened in Paris be used to encourage fear, xenophobia and intolerance”. We have been here before, in 1938, let us not repeat our failure.