The migration crisis hitting Europe is unprecedented. People are risking their lives to get to Europe. Many do not make it and die in the waters of the Mediterranean or in sealed trucks – abandoned by people traffickers.
The normal rules of EU migration policy are in tatters, designed for another time and not fit for purpose today.
It is not true to say that nothing is being done by the EU, perhaps it is more accurate to say that not enough is being done, because of the absence of agreement among the 28 member states about the way forward.
I believe that will change. It must. Sadly, the washing ashore of the bodies of two little Syrian boys has elicited a reaction among the public and political leaders. They are not the first little children to suffer and unless something is urgently done they will not be the last.
It is alarming to watch migrants at train stations shoving children through windows of overcrowded trains, unsure of where they are going or if they will get there.
The EPP Group, to which Fine Gael is aligned, supports responsibility sharing on a European level through a solidarity mechanism in support of those Member States where most migrants are arriving, especially along the Mediterranean coast.
The search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea, which have been supported by Ireland, will continue in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life.
But this is only a reaction albeit an important one, we have to focus on solutions to the crisis, including tackling the reasons why so many flee and risk their lives to make it to the shores of the EU. The civil war in Syria has displaced 4 million people.
Refugees have a right to protection and support.
The challenge for member states is to make sure that refugees get the support due to them.
A crackdown on people traffickers is also necessary. Massive sums of money are being extracted by traffickers.
Europe’s external borders must be protected as a prime deterrent to those human traffickers who make false promises to people in return for extortionate sums of money. We must also protect the European principle of free movement, which eliminated internal border checks across mainland Europe under the Schengen system.
There is also the immediate need to speed up how we process those seeking refuge. The EPP Group is fully supportive of offering humanitarian assistance to those in need.
In his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament next week, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to address this issue and set out some concrete proposals to help ease the crisis.
In the longer-term, the EU must work with democratic countries in Africa and in the Middle East to ensure they play their role in assisting migrants in need and in preventing human trafficking. Many refugees are fleeing war zones and conflicts that will not end in the next few months or not even in the next few years.
Migration is a global issue which requires a global response, and to that end, the EU needs to work closely with the UN to establish a way forward. The EU cannot solve the problem alone.
It is certainly one of the most challenging and complex situations the EU has ever had to face.