The Local, April 20, 2015
A Swedish MEP is stepping up a pan-European cross-party campaign for “legal and safe routes to Europe” for migrants in the wake of the latest Mediterranean boat disaster. Cecilia Wikström, has told The Local that EU member states are currently doing so little to help guarantee safe passage that future generations will compare their actions to Sweden “turning a blind eye” to the Holocaust.
The MEP–who is a long-time advocate of safer passage for refugees seeking safety in Europe–made headlines on Monday after she initially told Swedish television network SVT that future generations would liken the approach of EU governments to the policy of appeasement during the Second World War.
Speaking to The Local after the broadcast, the centre-right Liberal Party politician said: “I stand by what I was saying at breakfast time. I think that my children and grandchildren are going to ask why more wasn’t done to help people running away from Isis, or violence in Eritrea or wherever, when we knew that people were dying in their thousands. People will ask the same question they did after the war, ‘if you were aware, why didn’t you do something?’. In Sweden we allowed our railroads to be used to transfer Jews to Nazi death camps.”
“There are more refugees in the world today than during and after the Second World War…The world is on fire at the moment and we need to cope with that,” she added.
“After the tragic events in Lampedusa in October 2013, heads of state stood by the coffins said it should never happen again. But there is a new Lampedusa every week and people are still willing to watch it happen.”
Because national governments are responsible for most immigration policies, elected members of the European Parliament such as Wikström are limited to lobbying EU member states on the issue.
But the politician, who sits in the conservative European People’s Party grouping in Brussels and Strasbourg, says her campaign is attracting growing support across political bloc boundaries, with fellow MEPs such as Germany’s Birgit Sippel and France’s Sylvie Guillaume, who are both part of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. She hopes that her supporters can help influence national policies on the issue.
When asked about how Sweden’s Social Democrat-Green coalition government had responded to her campaign, she told The Local: “It is very controversial. I cannot speak for the government or disclose what they have said. What I can say is I really wish for them to take the lead on this and put it [legal safe passage to Europe] into action as a national policy”.
The Local has contacted the offices of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Foreign Minister Margot Wallström for comment.
Over the weekend Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized other EU nations for not doing enough to help his country cope with the surge of migrants trying to reach his country’s shores and argued that international efforts needed to focus on returning stability to Libya, rather than on sea patrols and search-and-rescue resources.
Meanwhile Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Europe risked “damaging our credibility if we are not able to prevent these tragic situations which are happening every day.”
Aid and refugee organisations have also been quick to demand more cross-border cooperation on the issue.
“This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies.”
EU foreign and interior ministers began emergency talks in Luxembourg at 1pm GMT, with EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos also attending as the 28 member states try to find a solution to the growing tide of humanity washing up on its southern shores.
But European politicians are deeply divided over how to tackle the issue, with many countries reluctant to change current rules, keen to retain their autonomy on immigration policies and concerned about the potential costs of helping refugees to reach safety in Europe.
The UK for example is unlikely to back any controversial policy shifts in the run up to its general election in three weeks. In Finland, which held elections over the weekend, discussions are underway which could see a nationalist populist party forming part of the country’s next coalition government.
As well as Monday’s meeting, EU president Donald Tusk has said he is considering holding a special leader’s summit on the crisis but no date has been fixed.
The latest disaster in Italy comes after a week in which two other migrant shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead.
Some 11,000 migrants have been rescued since the middle of last week and current trends suggest last year’s total of 170,000 landing in Italy is likely to be exceeded in 2015.
Many travel onwards to other countries including Sweden, which takes in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation.