Julian Braithwaite

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Switzerland

7th September 2015 Geneva, Switzerland

The Tragedy and Reality of Europe’s Refugee and Migration Crisis

Who could fail to be moved by the photograph last week of the little Syrian boy on a Turkish beach?  We have long grown numb to the statistics of the Syrian conflict yet here was a picture that captured with blinding clarity the human tragedy.  Hundreds of little Aylans have drowned in the Mediterranean far from the world’s cameras.  Thousands more have been killed, maimed and orphaned in Syria’s theatre of horrors.

I’m proud of the way people in my country and across Europe have responded, with such generosity.  One barrister set up a website on Thursday night asking London’s lawyers to donate one billable hour to help Syria’s refugees.  By Friday afternoon he’d raised £50,000.

I’m proud too that my government has provided £1 billion to help Syria’s refugees and is looking again at resettlement programmes for the most vulnerable in the camps and programmes around Syria itself.

In the last week I’ve been talking to the heads of the main agencies that deal with refugees and migration.  Here are six uncomfortable things I’ve learned:

1.  The main reason Syrian refugees are coming to Europe in such numbers is because they’ve given up hope of ever going home.  Four years in and the civil war is showing no signs of ending; even if it did, people fear that what remains would be a dangerous and barren place for many years.  Despite the perils people are seeking finally to restart their lives and give their children a future.  And who can possibly blame them.

2.  But many here in Geneva believe that our actions, and perceptions of our future intentions, have played a part in the decisions of so many to make the perilous journey to Europe.  The hope that if only they could get to Germany they would be able to stay.  The concern that Hungary’s fence would make it harder to get there.  The fear that the talk of setting up “safe areas” in Syria would lead to their forcible repatriation. The delay introducing the right to work for refugees in Turkey.  The failure to fund WFP’s food aid programme for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

3.  Schengen’s common border is not functioning as it should.  Greece and Hungary have understandably struggled to receive and screen the arrivals according to the proper processes.  The 4,000 people who have been crossing daily into Hungary also include migrants who have been in Greece previously.  Many now argue that a common border requires common asylum and resettlement policies, and a common capacity to implement them.

4. The best way to support Syria’s four million refugees is in the region.  The ones who make it to Europe are the resourceful ones; those most in need are back in the camps.  As WFP have said, if we don’t help people where they are they will move.  And if we only give resettlement places to those who risk their lives getting to Europe, we will encourage others to try.  Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan need more of our help.

5. The UK’s borders are intact but that does not mean we can’t do more.  The Prime Minister has just announced another £100 million to support Syria’s refugees.  We’re looking at the resettlement programmes we have to help the most vulnerable in the camps and countries around Syria.  We’re working with the French on the idea of a reception centre in Niger to help manage migration from West Africa.  And while the refugee situations in Somalia, Eritrea and the Sudans are more serious, there too the best solutions are regional ones in partnership with UNHCR and the IOM.

6. Without a political solution in Syria the refugee crisis will get worse.  In addition to 4 million refugees, there are over 7 million homeless Syrians in Syria itself. There will be more refugees, and more of them will try to get to Europe to escape the devastation, the longer this war goes on.  Yes reconstruction will be hard.  But it cannot start until there’s peace.

This week Europeans put aside their concerns over mass migration and responded with humanity to fellow human beings in great need.  But we’re in this for the long haul. Our empathy will need to be harnessed and husbanded by wise policy over the weeks, months and years ahead.

About Julian Braithwaite

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015. Julian was born in Rome, and has…

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015.

Julian was born in Rome, and has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, where he studied biochemistry, history and international relations.

He is married to Biljana Braithwaite and they have
two daughters, Anya (born 2000) and Katya (born 2004). He spent much of his career dealing with the crises in the former Yugoslavia and goes to Montenegro every summer.

Julian posts on the United Nations and the issues around globalisation, including human rights, the internet, global health, humanitarian crises and arms control.