Mary Robinson warns history will judge refugee response

Mary Robinson captivated an interparliamentary committee meeting of the European Parliament in Brussels with a stark warning that Europe must provide “significant new resources” for the assistance of refugees and that burden must be “shared more fairly”.

Mary Robinson warns history will judge refugee response

The former Irish president encouraged the packed auditorium of European parliamentarians to consider how they would be judged by history if they failed to act speedily and appropriately.

“We know what must be done”, she said, and went on to address the particular issues of women migrants who now, with children, outnumber men, and face the threat of rape, the demand for sex in return for services, and health issues related to pregnancy and birth.

Some 16% of women migrants to the southern Mediterranean are pregnant, a percentage which is increasing as women become more fearful that Europe will close its doors and leave their new-born infants out in the cold.

More than two-thirds of drowning victims are currently women, who are often put in the most dangerous parts of the boats and are less likely to be able to swim.

If they get to Europe they face a whole new series of dangers because refugee camps currently fail to comply with the basic international standards which would help keep them safe.

There are often no segregated areas for women and toilets may have no doors. There have been reports of women stopping eating and drinking so they don’t have to face the danger in the toilets.

Europe’s mind must also be focussed on making sure such a refugee crisis never happens again, said Ms Robinson. The push factors forcing thousands of people to attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean or overland into Europe were poverty, war, and climate change.

Increasing drought had pushed Syrians into the cities from the countryside and had been one of the factors in the escalation of the conflict there, she said. Drought was particularly hard on women who tended to live close to the land and depended on local water, energy and food sources to maintain their families.

In a rousing conclusion, she called on Europe to embrace this new challenge and make it “a chronicle of adaptation” which instructed us how to enact fairness and equality and “shift to a new level of consciousness.”

No such interparliamentary committee meeting has ever been so well attended by MEPs. There is wide recognition that the stakes are very high on the refugee crisis because it is reckoned there are 2m migrants preparing to attempt to enter Europe when the weather improves.

On Monday there will be a summit in Brussels on the issue between Turkey and the EU and on March 17 and 18 the EU will hold its own summit on the refugee crisis.

The European Parliament held a seminar for journalists to precede the interparliamentary meeting but it failed to ignite, due to the notable lack of any refugee voices on the discussion panels.

Ms Robinson’s address focussed attention back on Europe’s responsibility to these people and this theme was continued with a strong intervention from Italian human rights activist Nawal Soufi who has spent months living among refugees in Greece and Sicily.

She said a comparison could be made between today and the Nazi era in that European people knew, in truth, what was happening to the refugees and still did little or nothing to save them. “I am not afraid of the refugees”, she said, “I am of the state of my conscience in 25 years time if Europe fails to act now.”

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox