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MondeDiplo.com: Is Europe really a sanctuary?

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Sunday, 07 May 2017

Is Europe really a sanctuary?

Immigration amounting to 0.2% of the EU population has triggered a ‘refugee crisis’ that is really a crisis of the European Union itself, and of its ability to rally member states around values that guarantee much needed fundamental rights.

The reaction of European Union member states to the arrival of migrants and refugees has been to do everything possible to prevent more arrivals — short of committing themselves — even if it means numerous violations of human rights and refugee law. They have adopted techniques ranging from physically strengthening national borders (including the construction of walls and of camps where migrants can be held and screened) to developing subtler legal mechanisms that increase the ambiguities of the European project (1).

The common immigration policy officially began with the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008. But only some aspects of migration have been addressed, notably policy on asylum and short-stay visas, and the harmonisation of conditions for the deportation of irregular immigrants from non-EU countries.

In reality, EU member states — perceiving a need to protect themselves from foreigners portrayed as delinquents, criminals and terrorists, at a time of economic crisis — are applying double standards. On one hand, they reject the common standards and institutions that require them to accept refugees and other migrants. For instance, they have rejected the European Commission’s plan to impose quotas for resettling refugees in the EU, and to relocate asylum seekers who have already arrived in Greece and Italy within the Union. Yet on the other hand, when it suits their purpose, they strengthen those standards and institutions: they have agreed to develop networks of data and metadata files that make it possible to monitor the movements of foreign nationals (and European citizens), and also to strengthen the EU border agency Frontex, by creating a border and coastguard force with greater powers and autonomy (2).

Yet the EU institutions are themselves ambiguous: sometimes open, sometimes closed, they waver between autonomy and subordination to the member states. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, himself seemed ambivalent in his State of the Union speech of 2016, when he said that solidarity, though a duty, could not be imposed; it had to be voluntary. The Council of the European Union (its council of ministers) is continually extending the permission given to some states to maintain controls on some of their borders, even though they lie within the Schengen area. The European Court of Justice states that member states are not obliged to grant humanitarian visas to those wishing to enter EU territory to apply for asylum.

Outsourcing migration control

Meanwhile, member states and institutions are all seeking to evade their responsibilities by externalising migration control, a technique borrowed from the management of commercial enterprises. It means offshoring the control of migration to countries outside the EU, and subcontracting it, mostly to the migrants’ countries of origin and the countries they pass through.

The technique serves the same purpose as in the business sector: saving money by entrusting others with the work of controlling immigration, even if that means paying non-EU states a token remuneration, now often disguised as development aid. The EU and its member states are also protecting themselves against legal risk by distancing immigration control from the public eye, and from European judges.

The arrangement between the EU and Turkey agreed on 18 March 2016 is only one aspect of a phenomenon that has led to numerous violations of EU human rights and refugee law undertakings. In return for ‘incentives’, and under threat of ‘economic sanctions’, the deal requires Turkey and some other countries (Libya, Sudan) to hold migrants back at their own borders and to re-admit migrants who have been identified as irregulars on EU member states’ territory.

Non-EU countries that do not recognise the right of asylum are also entrusted with the task of ruling on applications for protection submitted by foreign nationals they have detained. This is the case for Turkey, which is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention but has said it will only apply the convention to people who have become refugees as a result of events taking place in Europe; that clearly does not include Syria. War-torn Libya is not party to the refugee convention. There is also the question of talks with Sudan (whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court) and with Egypt and Eritrea. Though the EU and its member states may not openly recognise it, Europe is less and less a sanctuary.

Jean Matringe

Jean Matringe is a professor of international law at the University of Paris 1.
Translated by Charles Goulden
 
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