Euronews asked the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, about the high cost people are paying for change in north African countries, where revolutions are forcing many to seek refuge elsewhere.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews: Europe has a humanitarian crisis on its doorstep and you’ve described its response as ‘grudging and meagre’. Specifically, what do you want the EU member states to do?
Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: When I mentioned that there has been a ‘meagre’ response, I was not referring to the Libyan crisis in itself. I was referring to the fact that two countries, Tunisia and Egypt, had revolutions in which there is, I think, a very important chance for democracy to prevail. There is a risk that these revolutions will be hijacked by extreme forces and so it is absolutely crucial to show to Tunisia and Egypt the same kind of solidarity that was shown to Portugal in the 1970s, which allowed us (the Portuguese) to consolidate democracy.
euronews: You’re advocating action at a European level, so do you then share Italy’s view, for example, that other EU member states should do more to help?
Guterres: I think it’s absolutely essential to have massive support from Europe, but also from the developed world in general, in order to make sure that democracy can prevail, in order to make sure that all those who want to make Egypt and Tunisia become true, modern, democratic, secular states are able to overcome the enormous challenges and difficulties they are facing. And let’s be clear: until now we haven’t yet seen from Europe, or from the United States or from other countries in the developed world enough support in this complex struggle that these people are facing.
euronews: You yourself have acknowledged that some Tunisian migrants are taking advantage of the situation to find a better life in Europe. If that’s the case, how do you convince Europe, and Europeans — because after all we’re not just talking about politicians here — how do you convince them that they should be taking more people in?
Guterres: Migration is an essential element of Europe’s life today and it’s better to do it in an organised way. It’s better to do it offering meaningful opportunities of legal migration than to let smugglers and traffickers benefit from the migration needs of Europe, if there is a negative, irrational attitude in relation to migration.