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“Europe is never united on these issues”

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Are Europeans doomed to migratory crises? For ten years, and especially since the start of the civil war in Syria, the subject has represented a challenge for the Member States of the European Union (EU). As diplomatic discussions between Putin and the West continue to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, the Norwegian Refugee Council warns, this Thursday, February 3, of the risk of the massive displacement of 2 million refugees in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. by Russia.

The Syrian migration crisis in 2015 had already seen the European Union tear itself apart over the fate of new arrivals. More recently, the 27 showed no more solidarity with Poland when Belarus brought tens of thousands of migrants to the Polish border in autumn 2021 to put pressure on the EU. Will the latter change its attitude towards inter-European migration? Marianne asked the question to Patrick Martin-Genier, teacher at Sciences Po Paris and specialist in European issues.

Marianne : Let’s go back eight years. Russia annexes the province of Crimea and war breaks out in eastern Ukraine. Was there an increase in the number of migrants during this period?

Patrick Martin Genier : No. The annexation of Crimea took place when a major part of the population is Russian-speaking. They feel Russian so this maneuver did not produce any displacement. For the Donbass, the conflict caused nearly 15,000 deaths, but it was confined to the region. The displaced remained in Ukraine, in other regions. They had no reason to leave the country. On the other hand, if Ukraine is invaded, the question is quite different.

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The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that 2 million people will be displaced if Russia attacks. What to expect from the European Union after the cacophony of Syrian refugees and Belarusian maneuvers last year?

Most certainly the same cacophony! The situation will be special with a war on our doorstep. The refugees who will come from there fall within the framework of the Geneva Convention of 1951 and its annexed protocol. It obliges the countries to collect all the victims of the war. This does not mean that they will have the status of political refugees but that they must be received with dignity and their requests must be investigated.

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If this scenario occurs, Poland and Hungary in particular will be in the front line. What mechanisms would be triggered to distribute the refugees?

According to EU rules, all asylum applications will have to be lodged and processed in countries bordering Ukraine, where migrants will first arrive. Then we can expect an emergency meeting of member countries. On this occasion, each country will determine to what extent they agree to receive refugees and how many.

“The arrival of a million migrants in a country raises questions. The question of support will always remain a subject, whether in the eyes of the Poles, “good” or “bad” migrants. »

But remember that during the migrant crisis of 2015, some Eastern European countries had categorically refused to welcome migrants. Things haven’t changed since then and since the decision is up to the states, we can expect a similar situation. Europe is never united on these issues.

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During the crisis with Belarus, Poland had erected a wall of barbed wire to prevent migrants from passing. It is already preparing for the arrival of around one million Ukrainians. Can countries reluctant to welcome Syrian Muslims have a different approach when the refugees are European?

It is true that Poland, which defends freedoms in its country and has a religious closeness to Ukraine, could have less difficulty in welcoming these European refugees. But the Polish government, nationalist and populist, could refuse these refugees for other reasons.

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Whatever their origin, the arrival of a million migrants in a country raises questions. The economy will be turned upside down, as well as the social security system. And the issue of support will always remain a subject, whether, in the eyes of the Poles, “good” or “bad” migrants.

Will Hungary, which will also be on the front line, be one of the dissenting voices of the EU? In the sense that Viktor Orban stages his closeness to the Russians?

Indeed, Orban was again received a few days ago for five hours in the Kremlin. He tries by all means to get closer to Russia and it’s a safe bet that in the Ukrainian crisis, he will stay in the background to avoid friction with Putin. But Hungary could be joined by other countries. France is going to have elections and some candidates could also oppose taking their part.

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