Organisation Internationale de Droit du Développement

Europe: Refugee System is Broken

The refugee crisis has clearly shown that the European refugee system is broken and must be fixed urgently

The refugee crisis has clearly shown that the European refugee system is broken and must be fixed urgently, said Irene Khan, Director-General of IDLO as she delivered the keynote speech at the Barbara Prammer Symposium  on January 8 at the Austrian Parliament.

Speaking on “Women. Refugees. Solidarity”, Director-General Khan warned that the current refugee and migrant flow confronting the region is not only “the biggest humanitarian challenge that Europe has faced in recent years,  but also a political challenge at a dangerous turning point.”

“If the right policy choices are not made, years of gains made for women – in terms of human rights as well as socio-economic development - could be jeopardized.”

“The refugee crisis is symptomatic of a bigger crisis of values,” she stated.

Underlining that “for millions of women and girls, the world is a very unequal and unfair place” and that “laws and institutions often not only fail to protect women and girls, they actively discriminate against them”, Director-General Khan stressed that the refugee problem needs to be seen through a gendered lens, since being a refugee brings additional and significant dangers to women, including sexual and gender-based violence.

“The plight of refugee women hides a bigger challenge to women’s human rights and gender equality,” she said. 

“Ultimately the answer lies in more effective schemes for sharing the responsibilities for reception, decision-making and solutions for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as protection-sensitive border control and expanding the opportunities for legal migration of refugees.”

“Shared values of Europe must translate into fair and shared responsibilities,” said Irene Khan.

In addressing the prevention and solution to refugee problems, Irene Khan highlighted the key role the rule of law plays in building stable, democratic societies: “Successful peace-building strategies need investment in institution-building, including transparent and accountable justice institutions.”

She stated that the rule of law is a prerequisite for peace, security and development and is thus key to preventing refugee crises and large flows of irregular migration from occurring in the first place. This requires investment in development – including in institutions, policies and measures that support the rule of law, respect for human rights and gender equality.

“The more donor governments are willing to invest in developing the rule of law, the less they will have to scramble to address catastrophic development failures that turn into refugee crises. Building resilient societies takes vision, time and money. But it is the soundest investment there is,” Director- General Khan said.

During her visit to Vienna, Director-General Khan met with H.E. Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, Federal Minister for Education and Women's Affairs, to discuss potential collaboration to further women’s rights, including at the forthcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women

Petra Bayr, member of the Austrian Parliament and Chair of the Committee for Development Cooperation, and Director General Khan discussed the intrinsic link between development, rule of law and migration.

In a meeting with H.E Ambassador Dr. Helmut Tichy, Legal Advisor of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other officials from the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Director-General Khan commended Austria for its strong support at the United Nations for the inclusion of the rule of law in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and discussed cooperation on policy matters relating to protection of refugees and migrants and the solution of refugee problems through the rule of law at national and international levels

Irene Khan visited the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA). The Dean and Executive Secretary of IACA, Martin Kreutner, and Director-General Khan agreed to further strengthen cooperation between their respective institutions, with a particular focus on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal 16.

Austria has been a Member Party of IDLO since 1994.

Read full speech here.