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World Refugee Day, a reminder for EU leaders to use the compass of humanity and responsibility at the next summit

Millions are fleeing war or persecution worldwide. As we commemorate their strength and courage on World Refugee Day, we try to be calm quoting the record high number of 68.5 million displaced people - 3 million higher than the total population of the UK - 25.4 million refugees, 40 million internally displaced and 3.1 million asylum seekers.

Most of them come from five countries, accounting for two-thirds of all refugees: Syria (6.3 million); Afghanistan (2.6 million); South Sudan (2.4 million); Myanmar (1.2 million) and Somalia (986,400). But these are just a small numbers if we compare to the anticipated climate bomb which is supposed to displace up to 250 million people.

The numbers are striking and I personally cannot help but wonder: How long will it take international leaders to realise that we must work together and fairly share our responsibility towards refugees? How long will it take European leaders to realise that the Union's own survival is at stake with the migration and refugee crisis?

It does not take long to act once you put two elements together: humanity and responsibility. These two elements have built the European Union and now they seem to be at risk. 

The recent Aquarius incident in the Mediterranean clearly revealed that the migration issue lies at the core of many divisions in Europe. The EU has achieved a lot over the past couple of years (fewer deaths at sea; less arrivals; stronger external borders; closer cooperation with third countries), but Aquarius has reminded us that our work is far from done. No one believes that it is the Italian responsibility, the Maltese or the Spanish one.

Europe's largest migration crisis since the Second World War and the concerns of citizens about further uncontrolled migratory flows have highlighted the importance of a joint approach in the fight against irregular migration and of securing the EU’s ability to act.

Raising fences and building walls is not an option in a world of responsible and humane leaders. We need to work together because migration requires a coordinated European response involving ALL Member States.

Next week, EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss also migration and the reform of Common European Asylum System. The Parliament has courageously taken a stance in proposing changes to the so-called Dublin rules. Another procrastination in changing the system will exacerbate divisions. Failing to reach an agreement is not an option.

In our house of civil society, we have argued as much as across the political spectrum but we have wiped divisions and convened that the only way to solve the crisis is by taking the humanitarian approach, the only right antidote to the xenophobic national discourse that plays on the perceived threat posed by ‘irregular migrants’.

Fundamentally, migrants are human beings with exactly the same fundamental rights as EU citizens, who must be respected and safeguarded irrespective of the person’s legal status.

We should be concerned that intolerance, racism and xenophobia towards migrants are on the rise in Europe. The xenophobic attitude of some Member States should be condemned as it is contrary to the fundamental values of the EU. It's most worrying how migration is used as a populist tool for political gains at the national level abandoning European values.

Refugees should be seen not as a threat but as an opportunity for Europe’s economic and social model. Sustainable long-term integration policies covering skills screening and recognition, education and training should be put in place to stimulate the economy.

Our house is currently drafting an own-initiative opinion on the cost of non-immigration, with the aim to present the views of the representatives of employers, trade unions and social, occupational, economic and cultural organisations on the results of a hypothetical disappearance of all third country nationals from the EU.

The focus will be on the economic cost, including the effect on employment and growth, and social and cultural cost, analysing the role of migrants in different sectors of the economy and of society, including their net involvement in social security and welfare systems. This would help build awareness of the positive impact migrants have on cultural diversity and practical economic life.

Time has come to use cultural intelligence rather than plain rationality in crafting an asylum reform that reconciles firmness with solidarity. Fair distribution of migrants via a humane, coordinated and shared EU response is the only solution to save lives, uphold rights and preserve European unity.

The refugee and migration crisis is an epochal drama for Europe. If EU leaders fail to deal with it, Europe risks an irreparable political demise.

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