The Guardian reports that the European commission wants to open offices (or using existing ones) in third countries to process asylum applications. The article validly points out that similar proposals have been tabled in the past but never reached the implementation stage. The new EU commissioner for home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, signals a u-turn on the matter… but for how long? Proposals like this are easier to write on paper than implement in practice and would require a significant devolvement of financial and human resources. The ‘side effects’ of such a move also involve some more in-depth thinking.
If one were to use the information in The Guardian article to make a judgement, it would seem that the EC is still a long way to go to move from the policy announcement to a serious policy development and impact assessment. The article refers interchangeably to asylum and immigration processing centres, is this what the EU policy makers are saying or is the result of a journalist with little appreciation of the difference between forced and economically-driven migration? I frankly don’t know at this point.
For now, as everyone who has tried to migrate or even just visit the EU from most of the countries listed in the article know, a visit to a EU consulate often hundreds of kilometers away from one’s home is a requirement for applying for a visa. Long queues, bribes and frustration are common experience for aspiring migrants. Some EU member states, like The Netherlands, even require people to undertake language tests before ever set foot in Europe. Incidentally, it would be fascinating to find out how many Dutch language teachers are available in sub-Saharan Africa (especially outside of capital cities). So, in many ways, offshore migrant processing centers already exit and there is plenty of evidence that indicate that are often dysfunctional if not corrupt and, more importantly, don’t really provide a response to the demand for migration of the majority of aspiring migrants – ie people will just continue to try their lack on rickety boats. Given their track records on migration, it would be cause of great concern if these offices were to be tasked with assessing also asylum applications. If the proposals are about asylum only, there are other considerations that may ultimately lead the EC to abandon the initiative. It is no secret that the aim of the policy is to decrease illegal crossings in the Mediterranean, would such initiative address this policy goal? In short: No. It is over ten years that similar proposals championing externalisation of asylum processing are on the table but they never fully reach implementation stage. The most obvious risk for forced migrants is that by opening asylum processing centres abroad EU member states will make access to asylum procedure impossible at home – ie everyone who manages to reach EU shores or airports may see his/her asylum application automatically rejected because if he/she was a ‘genuine’ refugee would have applied abroad.
This risk may be cause of concern for migrants and activists but not enough to stop the proposal from happening. What may succeed is exactly the opposite scenario. Assuming that it may be possible through a sustained effort of NGOs and campaigners to force a decent monitoring system on these asylum centres (which is not easy), the most obvious risk for EU countries is that if they open asylum processing centres and they comply to minimum standard of decency if not fairness in the way they handle asylum applications, this could ultimately lead to an increase of refugees in the EU as more people would have access to the application process once the obstacle of a very dangerous and expensive journey across the Mediterranean is removed, and this is not what the EU member states want.
By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham
[This article was originally published on The Conversation, 29 October 2014]
The UK government is seeking to defend its decision not to support rescue missions for migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe via the central Mediterranean. And even though Europe professes to be stepping up to the plate, the emphasis is now being placed on monitoring European waters rather than actually helping those in trouble. Unless all of Europe faces what is, in reality, a shared problem, many more tragic deaths are likely to follow the thousands that have occurred in the past few years.
According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration, more than 3,000 have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014 alone. Before then, in October 2013, 366 migrants drowned in a single incident when a boat taking them from Libya to Italy sank off the coast of the island of Lampedusa. As the IOM report shows, Europe has become “the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world”.
In the immediate aftermath of the Lampedusa tragedy, the Italian government launched Operation Mare Nostrum, which has seen the Italian Navy rescue well over 100,000 migrants from the sea. But while the operation has been commended as “a great humanitarian success” by the UN refugee agency, it has had significant economic and political costs. Reports on the future of Mare Nostrum are unclear but there have been suggestions that it will be either shut down or significantly downsized.
In any event, the Italian authorities have repeatedly warned EU partners that the country could not carry the €10 million monthly cost of the programme alone. A European-wide programme called Triton has emerged as a result but this is a very different operation.
Although Frontex, the agency in charge of Triton has reported being overwhelmed with offers of equipment to help it in its work, it has a significantly smaller budget and a much narrower remit. Triton is charged only with border control rather than rescue (including in international waters). This has led to fears that migrants will be left to drown off European shores.
Where’s the solidarity?
The UK has publicly spelled out why it is not prepared to support a search and rescue operation like Mare Nostrum. It argues the operation created an unintended “pull factor” and encouraged more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing in the knowledge that they would be rescued.
But while it is possible that Mare Nostrum has had a marginal pull, the UK Foreign Office has mistaken causes and means of migration in its criticism. As well known in migration scholarship, migration routes change over time, adapting to opportunities and policy openings. Closing down the route across the central Mediterranean is unlikely to reduce the overall number of migrants seeking to reach Europe as it does nothing to address the causes of migration, instead it will merely force them to pursue different and possibly even more dangerous routes.
As the British Refugee Council has pointed out: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War”. People will not stop trying to escape unlivable lives in their own countries in the hope of something better in Europe and we have already seen that thousands think it’s worth the risk. If we stop rescuing migrants, others won’t be deterred and even more are likely to die.
Read the original article.
By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham
In just a few days last week the #FightForYashika campaign managed to raise more than 178,000 signatures on a petition asking to the UK Home Office to reconsider the forced removal of 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi, who was deported back to Mauritius to face the abuse and harassment from which she and her family had claimed asylum in Britain in 2011. In a poignant analysis of the case in The Observer newspaper, Catherine Bennett, explained the possible reasons behind the sympathetic coverage even in usually anti-immigration media outlets by this story, noting that it “nicely encapsulates a picky but popular approach to migrants: just a few exceptionally gifted singletons, please”.
She also noted that this approach has a darker side – namely the exclusion of many more young migrants who have, like Yashika, applied unsuccessfully for asylum in the UK when still underage and whose stories receive far less sympathy and coverage in media. These children are, she wrote, “effectively punished by public opinion for being insufficiently picturesque” or not equally academically successful.
Individual stories such as Yashika’s have the power to mobilise sympathy beyond the usual pro-immigration camp and to reach out towards new constituencies – in this case also Conservative MP David Burrowes and the top model Cara Delevingne.
But if campaigns limit their scope to the individual case, and indeed make the case for a differential treatment based on it being exceptional, they produce little in terms of shifting public debate and changing the governance of youth immigration. Unfortunately, in this case, the petition did not even achieve its goal to postpone Yashika’s removal to after the completion of her A-levels.
But individual stories don’t necessarily need to be exceptional to mobilise widespread support. This has been demonstrated by the success of young undocumented migrants in the USA in changing the terms of the immigration debate. The DREAMers as the campaigners are known, created the political space in June 2012 for the US president, Barack Obama, to sign an executive order to suspend deportations and grant renewable two-year residence permits to young undocumented migrants (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA).
The DREAMers are a significant voice in the ongoing campaign for a long-term immigration reform that would regularise millions of undocumented young people who have developed strong social and emotional ties in the USA. Thanks to the persistent and well-organised work of the campaigners, many Americans perceive these young people as the contemporary embodiment of the American Dream. This is captured by the following statement on June 15, 2012, by President Obama:
These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighbourhoods, they are friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.
Facing tomorrow alone
A report launched today by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England on unaccompanied children refused asylum helps place Yashika’s case in the broader picture. It does this by combining three elements: the voices of unaccompanied children who are at risk of becoming Appeal Rights Exhausted (ARE), the analysis of a rapidly changing legislative and policy landscape, and the views of lawyers, local authorities and support organisations.
In 2012, the United Kingdom was the fifth top destination country in Europe
for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, with 1,125 applications. Around a quarter of these were successful in obtaining refugee status while the remainder had their claims refused outright or were granted limited leave to remain until age of seventeen and a half.
The uncertainty about the future that dominates the stories of unaccompanied minors is at the core of the report: “What’s going to happen tomorrow?”. The report highlights how current policy is narrowing the meaning of the principle of the “best interests of the child” enshrined in the UN Convention for the Right of the Child and in UK legislation. As a result, an increasing number of former unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are now young adults are left marginalised, disenfranchised and with little hope about their future.
The consequences of such an approach are not only felt by the young migrants. There are broader societal ramifications that policy makers to date have paid little attention to. Government figures show that only a small proportion of former unaccompanied minors refused asylum return voluntarily, with or without assistance, or have their removal enforced once they turn 18. Between 2010 and 2012, only 13.8% of the former unaccompanied children departed or were removed. The gap in the figures suggests that the majority of former unaccompanied children remain in the UK surviving on a day-to-day basis, vulnerable to exploitation and destitute.
The report of the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England reminds UK authorities of the paramount need and legal obligation to ensure that young people seeking asylum can properly put their case before the decision maker. The authorities also need to ensure the safety and well-being of those young people refused asylum – not least because, as the report warns: “a successful transition to adulthood not only favours young asylum seekers but is also in the interests of the state”.
Nando Sigona does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.