Refugees: the great renunciation of the European Union

Migration and Asylum, Op-ed

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Over the course of a year, the number of people who sought asylum in one of the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU) has halved: 650,000 in 2017 compared with 1,206,500 in 2016, and as a downward trend is confirmed for the first months of 2018.

Does this mean that the world has become a better place?

This is clearly not what the UN seems to believe – and certainly not the understanding of the refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria or Eritrea now joined by a growing number of Albanians and Venezuelans, who come and seek international protection each month in Europe. This is obviously not the reality faced in countries hosting a few million refugees from Syria like Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon[1].

Nor is the feeling sensed by all the people who try to help migrants access their rights or simply avoid death on the road to exile.

If any ‘statistical thinning’, it is the pure product of the EU’s efforts to manage migration flows ‘effectively’, namely bring them down.  This is the work of its 1,500 border and coast guards deployed at the EU’s external borders, but also the result of refoulement and push backs practices from a growing number of European States, including within the European territory, on the basis of the Dublin Regulation.

But the best is yet to come according to the European agenda, in particular if the reform of European asylum law, for which the European Commission has worked on for two years, is finally adopted by Members States of the European Council.

If the stated aim to end a variable-geometry take on asylum law according to the receiving country, may well be desirable in itself, it cannot be based on an enforced decline of refugee rights! Yet, this is exactly what is to come: once adopted – mostly in the form of regulations and not directives[2] any more – this reform will be of direct and immediate application by Member States. Neither national civil societies nor political entities will be able to consider adjusting some of the provisions.

The reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) will lead to the widespread use of fast-track and inadmissibility procedures when reviewing claims of people coming from places considered a ‘safe’ country of origin, a ‘safe’ third country or a first country of asylum – even if the person only transited through the country on their way. Member States will also be obliged to check if ‘internal protection’ is available within the country of provenance, for instance in Afghanistan or in some areas in Iraq. For the States constituting the EU’s external borders, the draft Dublin Regulation foresees that these same concepts should be used in the procedure prior to the very implementation of the regulation, e.g. an incitement to make refoulement practices systematic!

In short, to accept this reform would mean for EU countries to shirk their international commitments by sending back asylum seekers towards third countries which, in most cases, provide artificial procedural safeguards. Since March 2016, cooperation with Turkey has demonstrated the negative impact of this practice…

 

On the 20th of June 2018, International Refugee Day,

We, civil society members from the North, South and East of the Mediterranean, refuse that Europe, on our behalf and under the pretext of defending our ‘security’, embarks on a path that shames us!

For now, our only hope lies in Member States refusing to go further down the road of this sloppy reform. While some refuse to ‘share the burden’, others refuse to be the only ones, they say, to bear it.

We are hereby asking them, as well as leaders of so-called third countries, to stop considering the rights and the life of refugees as a bargaining chips.

European leaders must put themselves together and reconnect to the values which they pledged to adhere to and for which Europe was founded.

 

 

[1] In Turkey: more than 500,000 refugees from Syria in Istanbul only, almost 4 million in the country; in Jordan: more than 655,000 refugees from Syria according to UNHCR; in Lebanon: more than 1 million refugees from Syrian.

[2] Only matters related to reception conditions for asylum seekers would remain part of a directive, all other proposals were published in the form of regulations.

 

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