How an amendment to the Convention of Geneva can help solve the refugee crisis
The Convention has to be adapted with the following amendment: a safe haven has to be offered to any true asylum seeker, but not necessarily in the signatory countries. So, it is not excluded that this safe haven will be provided in Belgium, but this does not follow as a matter of course. Thus, it would become legally an option that the safe place would be provided in a country neighboring on the war zone. Every country would have their own financed and reserved places.
On October 21 and 22 the European People's Party (EPP) voted a resolution, which calls for an update of the Geneva Convention. My party too voted this resolution. The question, however, is how this update should be done. When someone says he wants to update the constitution, then the first question is how and when. This goes for this discussion too.
But updating the Geneva Convention cannot stand for eroding it, my party added with one move. And very aptly. In these times of crisis, we must hold on to our values. Remain firm, and weather even a heavy storm. But the question still remains: what can updating stand for?
We should dare to suggest a solution. A ship is safe in the harbour, but that is not what ships are for. And thus, the question about the updating must be answered. However, some reflection is needed.
Foremost this: it is important to know that people who flee a war, are usually not included in the definition of the Refugee Convention. However, their lives are in danger. They can get the subsidiary protection status. This status offers fewer rights than the status of recognised refugee. When I write about 'the Geneva Convention', then I use this term in this all-embracing sense.
There are two elements that have influenced my position on the refugee problem.
First of all, the UN agencies that are responsible for the refugee camps, prove to be massively underfinanced. Google and read the article on this topic in The Guardian, September 6, 2015: UN agencies ‘broke and failing' in the face of an ever-growing refugee crisis.
The consequences are predictable. The camps have become humanitarian scandals. The implementation of our Western values, which we are so proud of, has gone missing. The word 'hell hole' is in this context very appropriate The consequence is that refugees try to get to Europe in massive numbers. What would you do if you were in their shoes?
Secondly, we have to realize that there will be more wars in the years to come. In 2015, there were armed conflicts in 14 countries with over a 1 000 dead. In 4 of these conflicts, there were more than 10 000 dead: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and then there is the Boko Haram insurgency spreading over 4 countries. We have to do everything we can to try and reduce the number of wars, but whether we will succeed, is not certain. In 'The Bottom Billion' Professor Collier describes how countries with a low income and without any hope for growth, fall prey to war and coups again and again. So, there will be more wars in the years to come. The number will vary, as well as the names, but it is a fact that we are talking about at least 10 armed conflicts. Read up on it in Wikipedia's ‘List of ongoing armed conflicts 2015’.
What will happen, is clear. We probably are at the beginning of a steadily upward curve. Some fear that the camps will empty in Europe. Or, by extension, some fear that the countries where an armed conflict is raging in the decades to come, will empty in Europe. And this will be going on in at least 10 countries at the same time again and again. This may be disturbing to some, but is not correct. The countries at war will not empty in Europe. Only the asylum seekers who can physically cope with it or financially afford it, will come to Europe. And so we are faced with a moral problem as well. Imagine there is an armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and there are 2 million war refugees. Do we have to worry about the 10 000 Congolese who succeed in getting to Belgium and seek asylum here, or do we have to worry about all 2 million Congolese war refugees?
Do we not have to stand firm against the term push-back? This term is revolting; it reminds us of the most horrible scenes from the Titanic movie.
Therefore, the Geneva Convention must be globalised. It is being questioned because the people on this planet are becoming more mobile. In the 50s, it was simply unimaginable for an Afghan to come all the way to Belgium. This is the consequence of globalization and that is why it is time to update the Convention. The Convention, however, may not be eroded.
The Convention has to be adapted with the following amendment: a safe haven has to be offered to any true asylum seeker, but not necessarily in the signatory countries. So, it is not excluded that this safe haven will be provided in Belgium, but this does not follow as a matter of course. Thus, it would become legally an option that the safe place would be provided in a country neighbouring on the war zone. Every country would have their own financed and reserved places.
In my proposal, there is no quorum; only the location of the reception places could change. The responsibility remains the same. In fact, there is even more responsibility because we are not only talking about the people who succeed in getting here, but also about all of them who flee the war.
If we succeed in setting up refugee camps in the country at war, or in the neighbouring countries and if these camps are comfortable by human standards and in accordance with our values, then we have a different situation. Asylum in Belgium could still be sought, but in that case, a reception place would not necessarily have to be in Belgium, although this could not entirely be excluded.
Of course, the safe place should be a credible safe and humanitarian place in order for the amendment on the Geneva Convention to work. So, the key to success is the logistic ability to set up those humanitarian camps. Organisations as the International Organization for Migration can do this. They only have to be funded sufficiently.
If a signatory country of the Geneva Convention goes back on this obligation, then the regular procedure, as covered by the Convention, is followed.
In any case, this will encourage the signatory countries to do their utmost best to provide all necessities on the scene. After all, if they can legally guarantee a refugee a place in a safe and humanitarian camp, then his automatic right to a reception place in Belgium is no longer open.
In those camps, people can then be accommodated in living container units with air conditioning, instead of leaking tents. Moreover, Belgian reception places can be reserved in the reception camps in the neighbouring countries of the conflict zone.
Intensive audits can make sure that those refugees camps live up to the service level agreements agreed on.
The Geneva Convention is under great pressure due to globalisation and therefore must be adjusted with the help of globalisation.
The Geneva Convention should be amended in the sense that refugees should be given a safe place but not necessarily in Europe. It could also be in the neighboring country of the war zone.