Interview with Hélène Flautre, Member of the European Parliament

Hélène Flautre is a Member of the European Parliament and  Co-Chair of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.

You travelled to Turkey to meet Syrian refugees – what was your impression about their situation?

Turkey is one of the three major receiving countries of Syrian refugees, along with Lebanon and Jordan. The country has met this challenge with efficient administrative capacity. I’ve rarely seen refugee camps so well set up: tents for families, cooking facilities, laundry services. Turkey’s financial commitment is also considerable – around 300 million Euros. This is almost equivalent to all humanitarian aid mobilised by the European Union and its 27 member states.

So there has been a strong response from Turkish authorities, but has it been sufficient?

Despite these efforts, this is unfortunately far from adequate given the urgency of the situation, as there are thousands of refugees on the other side of the border, waiting to cross into Turkish territory. The government has been open to initiatives from civil society and NGOs. Turkish NGOS would like to facilitate their aid activity in “liberated zones,” which are beset with humanitarian problems. Even if restrictions have been relaxed a bit, it is still very complicated to deliver humanitarian aid and for NGOs to be duly registered and recognized as actors by the Turkish government. This is area should be developed on by the Turkish government and we must speak with authorities to make sure this happens.

As a Member of the European Parliament, how do you judge the European Union’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis?

First of all, it needs to be said that the best response lies in a political solution that Europe can participate in as a major actor. I think that Europe’s priority – if we want to have political legitimacy in the quest for a solution to the Syrian crisis – is to express solidarity in the welcome of Syrian refugees in Europe. I do not believe that the lesson of the Libya crisis has been learned. What happened then? Hysteria, without any grounding in reality, about masses of Libyan refugees on Europe’s shores.  And today, it’s full stop for any discussion about hosting Syrian refugees. Yet the EU has the chance to fulfil its responsibilities vis-à-vis those fleeing this dramatic conflict. While Syria’s neighbours are hosting more than 500,000 people looking for protection, the EU has received only 20,000 asylum applications. Only 4% of Syrian refugees are in Europe, primarily in Germany and other Northern countries, such as Sweden. So we ask neighbouring countries to open their borders, but we don’t do the same? There is a word for this: egoism. And we shouldn’t bask in the glory of having 53% of total humanitarian aid [for Syria]. This is only an 11 million euro difference from what a country such as Turkey has been providing since the beginning of the conflict. No glory there either.

Winter is here – shouldn’t we be increasing humanitarian aid ?

The humanitarian aid provided by the EU is certainly indispensable and it needs to be increased. We should also ensure that it arrives in a targeted manner in liberated zones and doesn’t end up in the hands of NGOs who are in fact controlled by the Assad regime. But this aid should not be a substitute for real solidarity to neighbouring countries, as  well as EU member states who are on the front line, such as Greece. Until now, aid has gone to policing the Greek-Turkish border in order to contain the potential arrival of asylum seekers from Syria. We have deployed 1800 policemen, have 26 floating barriers in the Aegean Sea and have set up 12 kilometres of barbed wire at the border. About 20 migrants drowned in December around the island of Lesbos. This is simply an embarrassment for Europe – deadly and indecent politics.

The island of Lesbos

What else should be done?

Resettlement, temporary protection, family reunification: the EU has other means at its disposition and should use them! The European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström has said that it is not possible to activate the temporary protection directive because there has not been a massive influx of refugees. This is not the right response. I am embarrassed and I have doubts about her capacity to achieve unanimity at the European Council. As far as we are concerned, there is no hesitation. We need to challenge national and European parliaments. The word « help » should not rhyme with « push »