Koenders: ‘We can’t turn a blind eye to the refugee crisis’

European countries must join forces to solve the refugee crisis, says foreign minister Bert Koenders. He is discussing the problem with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Friday. ‘The refugee crisis is the most tragic and urgent problem of the moment. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option.’

Mr Koenders is calling for European foreign ministers and the ministers in charge of asylum and migration to convene at short notice. ‘We can only tackle these problems by working together,’ the minister said.

‘We’ve seen heartrending images of the refugee crisis in and around Europe,’ the minister continued. ‘Like the little Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey this week and the truck containing the bodies of 71 refugees who were being smuggled into Austria. These pictures have shocked the world. Our first aim is to stop the suffering.’

Mr Koenders believes it is vital to the interests of both the refugees and the countries of Europe to find concrete solutions. ‘Words are not enough. We need fast action and fast results.’ The minister is currently talking with other EU countries about arrangements that include accelerated asylum procedures and a more effective return policy. The aim is to relieve the burden on member states that are facing a disproportionate influx of refugees. Pre-designating countries as ‘safe’ could help alleviate the problem.

‘The complex conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and other regions make managing the stream of refugees necessary yet complicated,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘But we must persist in our efforts to find political solutions to war and violence.’ The minister emphasised that countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are currently taking in large numbers of refugees. ‘We need to continue supporting these countries in providing for refugees while ensuring that they themselves do not become overwhelmed.’

As well as making arrangements for receiving refugees, Mr Koenders is also committed to seeking solutions to conflicts in the countries that are currently producing large numbers of refugees. ‘We’re continuing to work hard on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria.’

In countries like Eritrea, where people are fleeing human rights violations, Dutch human rights policy is also important. ‘We can’t do it on our own. The countries themselves need to help us look for solutions.’ In November Mr Koenders will attend the Valletta Summit on migration between the EU and African partners. European ministers will shortly convene a high-level meeting on the problems in the Balkans.