Refugees do not pose a threat and trade unions must help them integrate in the European society, it was said at a conference on refugee crisis management in Zagreb on Friday.

The conference was organised by the Croatian trade union federations SSSH and NHS.

SSSH president Mladen Novosel said that workers' unions wanted to send a message to European politicians that they should adopt a different approach to the exodus of refugees from the Middle East who travel along the Balkan and other routes in search of a better life in Western European countries. Those refugees are aware that Croatia is not a promised land for them but Croatian citizens have come to their aid readily, said Novosel.

There should be more solidarity at the EU level and countries with greater economic power, which can create jobs for refugees, should become much more involved in dealing with the refugee crisis. Unfortunately, there is lack of new jobs in Croatia, which has a 20% unemployment rate so integrating those people would be very difficult, said Novosel.

NHS leader Kresimir Sever expressed dissatisfaction with the way decisions are made in the EU and the fact that some of those decisions are not respected by some member-countries. Putting up wire fences and closing down borders reveals how fragile the EU is when it comes to concrete problems, he said.

The ongoing refugee crisis was preceded by economic and social crises in Europe and it was already then that migrants were given poorer and less paid jobs, and it is a duty of trade unions to ensure protection for those people and insist on equality on the labour market, Sever said. He added that employers had largely used the crisis to lower the price of labour and restrict labour and social rights, a process that was now becoming more serious with the arrival of migrants and posed a threat to worker and human solidarity.

Sever noted that money from European funds for migrants should be redirected to joint social programmes to help with the social integration of migrants.

The secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Luca Visentini, said that more than two million refugees were currently staying in refugee camps in Turkey and that it was not true that no solution could be found for those people or that Europe could not give them jobs and enable their integration.

Appropriate reception quotas should be defined for each member country, but many refuse it, and it is not easy to find a solution in such a situation, Visentini said.

Countries like Slovakia and Slovenia are refusing funds from EU structural funds and are thus refusing the duty to keep refugees on their territory. Such behaviour is ugly and unacceptable, Visentini said, adding that the cost of not integrating refugees increased by the day because they went underground and found jobs on the black market.

ETUC President Rudy de Leeuw underlined the importance of respect for human rights, noting that without the social integration of refugees, it would not be possible to solve that problem.

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