Coming from Greece, Mr Papandreu has broad knowledge of the migratory crisis. In this first part of our Q&A, he warns that people “will more and more be on the move in this global economy” and stresses that “conflicts, civil wars, oppression from authoritarian regimes, ethnic cleansing, violation of human rights” will keep on affecting citizens and thus “they will be searching for a better life. As long as they cannot find it in their homeland they will seek a better future elsewhere”. Global inequality and climate change degradation of natural resources will add extra preassure so that the former Prime Minister urges current leaders “to live up to the facts and be frank with their constituents”. Finally, he’s got a clear vision about what the Club de Madrid’s contribution should be in this crisis. “Giving a voice to the most vulnerable”
Q&A with Georpe Papandreu, former Prime Minister of Greece, on the occasion of the #WorldRefugeeDay (Part One)
Club de Madrid: What are, in your view, the underlying reasons of the current refugee flows around Europe and the Middle East?
George Papandreu: The recent mass exodus of citizens from the Middle East to Europe is very much a consequence of the Syrian war. According to the latest numbers, 4.7 million people found refuge in neighboring countries as they escaped the bloodshed in Syria. Additionally 6.6 million people have been internally displaced. Syrian cities’ infrastructure has been close to totally destroyed. It is a wonder how a family could survive without electricity, running water, hospitals or schools.
As the war unfolds, the puzzle of which military group controls which territory continues to change. Citizens have a deep sense of insecurity as they are caught between different factions and are pressured to shifting allegiances. This makes them easy prey of conflicting groups that could easily target them as possible collaborators of their opponents.
More than 250.000 Syrians – military and civilians – have been killed. Each year of continued warfare will bring increased numbers of human beings trying to escape. The number of refugees will simply multiply. According to the global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, in 2012, there were 100.000 refugees from Syria. By April 2013 there were 800.000. That number doubled to 1.6 million in less than four months. Eighty percent of the refugees that have reached Europe by boat in 2015 came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, Syrian refugees are the world’s largest refugee population under the United Nations mandate. This will not abate until the international community, the countries of the neighboring region as well as the different factions of Syrian society put an end to the proxy war. So a basic consensus is created around a common road map towards a peaceful, open, tolerant and diverse society with a government that is capable to represent and protect the rights of the citizens of Syria.
Persecution of minorities is another reason for people to flee their country. A characteristic example are Shiites from Afghanistan. But also women, young girls who see no future in a society dominated by the Talibans or similarly oppressive groups. Unfortunately, these categories of refugees are not considered a priority by most European countries and are often sent back to their country of origin.
Let us not forget the rising number of refugees coming from sub-Saharan Africa. According to FRONTEX (the EU border control agency), in 2015 108.000 undocumented Africans came to Europe. That represents an increase of 42% compared with 2014.
People will more and more be on the move in this global economy. It could be conflicts, civil wars, oppression from authoritarian regimes, ethnic cleansing, violation of human rights. It will also be a consequence of global inequality or climate change degrading natural resources, bringing on draught, natural disasters or pandemics. Citizens affected by the above will be in search of a better life. As long as they cannot find it in their homeland they will seek a better future elsewhere.
Club de Madrid: What kind of leadership is needed to solve this crisis?
George Papandreu: Leaders first need to live up to the facts and be frank with their constituents.
We must accept, and relate this message to our citizens, that population movements will continue from countries suffering from violence, insecurity and climate change towards countries which appear safer, freer and more prosperous.
Club de Madrid: What can the Club de Madrid do?
George Papandreu: In the long term, it goes without saying that we need to address the deep causes of population movements. It means making all necessary efforts to stop ongoing conflicts and prevent new ones, it means investing through external development aid in improving the economic and social conditions in the most vulnerable countries, it means engaging dynamically in the efforts to address global issues like climate change.
The Club de Madrid is a unique organization that combines the wisdom and the experience of former Head of State and government from all continents. From bringing new ideas on how to cope with global issues like the refugee crisis to giving a voice to the most vulnerable, it can make an important difference in our common effort to humanize globalization