Photo: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

“You wouldn’t put a child on a boat unless it’s safer than your home. Imagine this desperation”. These words were spoken by a mother who had fled Syria with her family and had just arrived to one of the Greek islands, where a Caritas Greece staff member provided them initial support . This family quickly realised, unfortunately, that Greece - although an EU Member State - is unable to offer reception, stability, or long-term options for rebuilding their war-torn lives.

The socio-economic crisis that has been ravaging the country for the last 5 years has prevented Greece’s ability to properly receive, accommodate, and provide durable solutions for the hundreds of thousands fleeing from war, violence, poverty and climate change-triggered threats in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Although the reception situation is more extreme in Greece, these dire conditions exist more or less across EU Member States. Either the years of self-imposed austerity measures focused on dismantling welfare states explains Member States’ incapacity to absorb and respond to the relatively low amount of people arriving to Europe or there is simply a lack of political will to respond. Because, let’s face it, the roughly half a million people arriving is just a drop in the bucket compared with Europe’s 500 million citizens. Compared to the number of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, these figures are small.

If governments continue to insist looking at the small picture, the “migration” picture, Europe will continue to “give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust” (Pope Francis address to European Parliament in Nov. 2014); adding, “that is not capable to broaden the scope of its present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development, safety and liberty” (Laudato Si, 162). The effects of the growth paradigm on climate change, on the widening gap between rich and poor, or on our capacity to empathise with those in need must be transformed.

Sometimes great challenges open the way for great solutions. The situation European leaders are facing today offers them a historic opportunity to act in solidarity in response to the broad crisis and pay tribute to the European project as well as to the great support that many European citizens have been demonstrating across the continent, offering welcoming responses to refugees arriving to their cities and neighbourhoods.

A more inclusive economic paradigm that puts people at the centre is the long-term solution. Along with this, Caritas Europa proposes four actions to address in a sustainable, efficient, humane and life-saving manner the following points to address the ongoing crisis and to act in solidarity:

  • Put people at the center of all policies – ensure a real and positive integration of those arriving to Europe.
  • Open more safe and legal pathways to Europe that refrain from differentiating between the perceived “worthy” and “worthless”.
  • Ensure a welcoming response, guaranteeing human dignity and healthy living conditions.
  • Ensure peace and development in countries of origin and “en-route” to Europe.

This article was first published in The Parliament Magazine on 5 October 2015.