The plight of refugees and our moral obligation to act

Editor's note: This article was written by Johanna Nyman, the president of the European Youth Forum (EYF). It is republished here from YO! Mag, a magazine of the EYF, a platform of European youth organizations. Follow them for more insights into the lives of young Europeans.

At times I feel like shutting out all the news. Not taking in any of the things happening around us. Not listening to all the sad, bad and difficult stories that are reaching us again and again.

For quite some time now hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing horrors, insecurity and conflict, in Syria (but not only here) and trying to make their way into Europe. In 2015 there were 1,321,560 asylum applications for EU countries, most of them from people coming from Syria. Of these, a mere 292,540 were approved. All these people could, contrary to what certain politicians want us to believe, be provided a safe home.

It is unacceptable that European countries have not let in more refugees, those fellow human beings who so badly need and have the right to access a safe place to live. This is most certainly a time when what our political leaders so often recall as our “European values”, are put to a test.

So far, the results have been disappointing. The recent agreement between leaders in the EU and Turkey is a cold-hearted example of where the moral compass is pointing the wrong way. The results that are presented to the public give the impression that human lives are traded in exchange for opening up new chapters of the negotiations of Turkey’s possible future membership of the EU.

Last week deportations of humans from Greece back to Turkey began. And indeed the situation, with more than one million migrants and refugees entering Greece since January last year, was unsustainable. But the reason for this was inaction further up the line; a number of European countries refused to let refugees cross their borders.

There has also been an inefficient and slow process to grant asylum, even for the minimum promised quotas of people. There are many ways in which this process could have been more efficient and humane, amongst others by investing in a more efficient EU-wide asylum processing system.

This is a joint problem that affects all of us and has an impact on all of Europe. We can’t hide when other human beings need our help, help they have the right to, just like you and me would have. And this right is not only a question of legal terms, but about the obligation we have towards fellow human beings. We do not have to go far back in time when our relatives, or indeed ourselves, had to find a safe place to live.

I still read the news and I will not stop doing so, because if we stop knowing what is happening in the world, stop caring for each other and stop voicing our opinions, then our society is racing toward a moral abyss, which is of our own creation.

Cover credit: YO! Mag