New LISD Commentary Examines the European Refugee Response

In a new LISD commentary “Potemkin's Refugee Policy,” researcher Georg Gassauer uses the first anniversary of the EU-Turkey Statement (EUTS) to review the European refugee response. Drawing on extensive field research conducted along the 2,500 kilometer Balkan route from Vienna to the Syrian border, the commentary discusses how a politics of appeasement towards an increasingly aggressive Turkey has created a relationship of dependence between the EU and Turkey. Analysing why the EU has not taken the initiative to create a "Plan B” Gassauer looks at the eventualities if the EUTS is abruptly annulled. Highlighting how a multitude of new security threats (economic, human and potentially military) have manifested themselves since March 2016, Gassauer concludes with recommendations for how to improve of the EUs crisis management ability and reassert a stronger diplomatic position vis-a-vis Turkey.

About the Author:

Georg Gassauer was chief operating officer at Train of Hope, Vienna and oversaw the transit of 150,000+ refugees through Vienna between August 2015 and January 2016. Currently, he is an independent researcher associated with Princeton University's Liechtenstein Institute on Self Determination. Researching for the institute he travelled overland from Vienna to the Syrian border towns of Reylhani and Kilis, conducted interviews during a 16 week period with frontline stakeholder these included: included senior government officials, senior members of the European Diplomatic corps in FYROM and Turkey, mayors, NGOs, judicial experts, volunteers, police officer and refugees. It also included numerous visitations to camps, Hot Spots, and city districts in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, FYROM, Greece and Turkey. The objective of the interviews and visitations was to understand the impacts that high-level decision making was having on those servicing the mechanism of the European refugee response. 

He has previously been engaged with the OSCEs Special Representative on Human Trafficking, UNODC and the Austrian Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria. He graduated from the University of Exeter, UK, in International Relations specialising in European migration and Middle East politics and earned an MSc in Environmental Technology and International Affairs from the Technical University and Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.

Commentary Abstract:

This commentary reviews the European refugee response one year after the borders along the western Balkan route were sealed and the EU-TR statement was signed. It argues that while official numbers of refugees crossing the Aegean have dropped dramatically, senior policy makers continue to neglect new problems that have arisen as a consequence of these actions. The paper sets out why Europe has not used the last twelve months more effectively to prepare for a new mass migratory movement and moves on to show that these same reasons have ensured that too few resources and too little attention is being committed to improving human security conditions in the refugee camps along the western Balkan route. Exploring how ignoring human error has allowed disillusionment to manifest itself within those that service the policy mechanisms, this essay proves that corrupted data gathering and ultimately flawed policy responses due to a lack of quality management are eroding confidence in government institutions. Finally, the paper concludes with four recommendations for policy makers to be implemented immediately. The paper is based on interviews with stakeholders along the “frontline” of this crisis between Vienna and the Turkish Syrian border town of Kilis.