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.