The scale of … tragedies is shocking but no novelty. It is estimated that since 1993 some 20,000 migrants have died trying to cross Europe’s southern borders. The true figure is undoubtedly higher: Thousands have perished, their deaths unrecorded.
Who is to blame? European politicians point the finger at traffickers. On Monday (20.4.2015 my inclusion), European Union officials came up with a 10-point plan, including military action against smuggling networks.
…what pushes migrants into the hands of traffickers are the European Union’s own policies. The bloc’s approach to immigration has been to treat it as a matter not of human need, but of criminality. It has developed a three-pronged strategy of militarizing border controls, criminalizing migration and outsourcing controls.
For more than three decades, the European Union has been constructing what critics call “Fortress Europe,” a cordon protected by sea, air and land patrols, and a high-tech surveillance system of satellites and drones.
The decision last year to scrap Mare Nostrum, the Italian-run search-and-rescue program, highlights this strategy. Mare Nostrum was replaced by Operation Triton, smaller in scope and with an entirely different aim — not saving lives but surveillance and border protection. The number of migrants now attempting to reach Europe is little different from that for the same period last year, yet the death toll is about 18 times higher.
When the European Union treats immigration as a problem of criminality, it is not just the traffickers who are targets. In 2004, a German ship rescued 37 African refugees from a dinghy. When the ship entered a Sicilian port, it was seized by the authorities who charged the captain and first officer with aiding illegal immigration. They were acquitted only after a five-year court battle.
Similarly, in 2007, the Italian authorities tried to block two Tunisian fishing boats that had rescued 44 stranded migrants from docking at Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia. The captains were charged with assisting illegal immigration. Not until 2011 did an appeals court overturn all the convictions.
Such cases are not aberrations. Treating good Samaritans as common criminals is the inevitable consequence of the European Union’s immigration policy.
…current policy is not preventing people from migrating; it is simply killing them, by the boatload.
Kenin Malik, The New York Times, 21 April 2015
“According to the UNHCR, Europe received some 714,300 asylum claims in 2014, up from 485,000 in 2013. EU member states accounted for 80 percent of this number in 2014—an increase of 44 percent compared to 2013. As to the country of origin of these asylum seekers, the top 5 countries in descending order were Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Eritrea. Syria and Iraq accounted for 30.1 percent of all asylum applications made in the EU. Many refugees do not immediately apply for asylum in their first point of entry. Those arriving in Southern Europe and the Balkans sometimes prefer to wait until they are in northern countries, given their better benefits, to apply. Others, lacking proper documentation or unsure of their asylum prospects, may never apply. They disappear into informal jobs as they try and build a new life for themselves.
Chances of receiving asylum vary widely. In the United Kingdom, 36 percent of applicants in 2013 received an initial positive decision. For the others, there are appeal processes in play and various other means of staying in the country, legally or otherwise; only 24 percent of the 2013 cohort were sent back or took advantage of voluntary repatriation schemes.The EU averaged a 25 percent approval rate in 2013, with Malta (72 percent) and Italy (62 percent) having the highest rates. Only four countries – Germany, Italy, France and Sweden – accounted for over two-thirds of asylum applications in that year.
While Syrians represented the largest of number asylum seekers in 2014, that number (149,600) is tiny compared to the total number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries (4 million) and to those internally displaced within the country (8 million). Still, the number of Syrian asylum seekers increased as did Iraqi asylum seekers. Iraqi asylum seekers stood at 68,700 in 2014, more than double the 2013 figure of 37,300. Turkey registered 50,500 or 74 percent of all Iraqi asylum seekers in 2014. Compared to the number of Syrians and Iraqis taken in by bordering countries (Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey), Europe, and countries like the United States, Australia and others have remained largely closed to those seeking refuge from the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Efforts by the EU to stem the flow of arrivals from the Mediterranean by relying on fences and closed doors will only serve to displace the challenge. Ultimately, a policy of managed immigration is likely to be the final outcome as the UNHCR calls for a more robust search-and-rescue operation and enhanced legal avenues such as resettlement programs, humanitarian visas, and enhanced family reunification measures. However the EU will also have to deal with the government in Tripoli(Tripoli, largest city and chief seaport and the national capital of Libya, located in north-western Libya on the North African coast of the Mediterranean Sea, 500 km (310 mi) south of Sicily/Italy [Wikipedia], my addition), which controls the ports of departure but is unrecognized by the EU. A strategy will also be needed to spread the burden of asylum seekers more equitably across the EU, open transit camps in North Africa and elsewhere, and strong>tackle the smugglers and the financial gains made possible by current policies.
However, this is in reality a small portion of the global crisis of refugees and IDPs. We should by all means tackle this human tragedy and end the horrors being witnessed in the Mediterranean. But we should also recognize that the global problem is getting worse as the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere continue, and people are displaced, killed, and maimed every day. Closing doors and building fences work in very limited ways. Refugees can have an impact on whole societies and regions decades after the tragedies that led to their displacement. Just as we are doing with climate change and global epidemics, it’s time for a global response to the refugee crisis—before it further destabilizes an already fragile global order.
Omer Karasapan, Regional Knowledge & Learning Coordinator, World Bank, published by Brookings, published 23.4.2015
New Proposals by the UNHCR
“UNHCR’s new proposals include the establishment of a robust European search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, similar to the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which came to an end last year, and to set up a EU scheme to compensate shipping companies for losses incurred while rescuing people in distress at sea.
UNHCR is also urging the EU to explore solutions to address challenges once refugees arrive in Europe, ensuring adequate support for them and avoiding a few countries having to shoulder the main responsibility for them.
At the moment, most people seeking safety in Europe arrive in a few states in the external border of the EU while, at the same time, a handful of countries, mainly Germany and Sweden, receive the largest number of asylum applications. To address this imbalance, intra-European solidarity is needed. Countries such as Italy and Greece should be supported to adequately receive asylum seekers and process their asylum applications. In addition, UNHCR is proposing a pilot project for the relocation of Syrian refugees who are rescued at sea in Greece and Italy to different countries across Europe, based on a fair distribution system.
Currently, Germany and Sweden alone have received around 56% of all Syrian asylum applications since the conflict started. This pilot project would seek a better distribution of Syrians recognized as refugees, among all countries in the EU and also contribute to reduce the risk of trafficking and exploitation linked to the current onward movements within the EU.
For asylum seekers, the Dublin Regulation, which defines state responsibility for processing asylum claims, should be fully implemented including using all tools available, such as family reunification, unaccompanied children, and the use of discretion for certain cases with more distant family links or other needs. These are tools which have been designed by EU States and should be used effectively.
As Syria’s conflict enters its fifth year with almost 4 million refugees, predominantly in the countries neighbouring Syria, increasing legal avenues for Syrian refugees to find protection in Europe is becoming imperative. UNHCR calls on European countries to make larger commitments to receive refugees through sustainable resettlement programmes and to intensify their efforts to increase opportunities for other forms of admission, so that people seeking safety can find it in Europe without having to resort to smugglers and dangerous irregular movements.
More opportunities for resettlement and other alternatives are needed, such as using private sponsorship, humanitarian visas, student and work visas. UNHCR is ready to explore conditions to expand programmes for more resettlement and for other forms of admission to the EU.
“As anti-foreigner rhetoric echoes through Europe, it is important that we remember that refugees are fleeing war and violence in places such as Syria. We need to recognize the positive contributions that they and their families make to the societies in which they live and also honour core European values: protecting lives, human rights and promoting tolerance and diversity,” said Cochetel. “UNHCR’s proposal includes also efforts to ensure that solid national integration support programmes are developed, and that refugees receive the support they need to contribute to our societies.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR proposals to address current and future arrivals of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants by sea to Europe, March 2015
Further Proposals and Reflections
“The EU should create asylum procedures at the embassies of its member states in the same way Switzerland has done. This would mean that in the future, refugees could apply for asylum at the embassies of EU member states outside of Europe. This would spare them the potentially deadly path across the borders.
The visa requirement for people from countries in crisis like Syria or Eritrea should also be temporarily lifted. That would allow asylum-seekers to request admission at European border control posts without being given blanket rejection by police. The EU’s Dublin Regulation, which only allows refugees to apply for asylum in their country of arrival, also needs to be eliminated. Instead, asylum-seekers should be distributed among EU countries through a quota system. The freedom of movement that has long applied to EU citizens should then also be extended to recognized refugees.
Contrary to what European leaders and interior ministers claim, deaths at Europe’s borders can be prevented. At the very least, their numbers could be dramatically reduced. But that requires a readiness on the part of Europeans to protect people and not just borders.”
Maximilian Popp, Spiegel Online International, 20.4.2015
A quota-trading mechanism may persuade more policymakers to accept a quota system. Under such a mechanism, states would be able to sell all or part of their quotas to another EU state. For example, France could avoid accepting all 87,000 of its quota by paying money to Malta, who would accept all or some of these refugees. Malta would then have more than 4,300 asylum seekers, but would also have more funds to make up for the “burden” of accepting more than its quota. However, for a quota trading mechanism to work, four concerns must be addressed:
There is, firstly, an ethical concern. Some may object to a quota scheme on the grounds that it ‘commodifies’ refugees, rather than respecting their rights. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has rejected a quota scheme using this logic. “Asylum is a right”, he stated, and so “cannot be subject to quotas”.
A second concern, of a more empirical nature, is that it is not clear that trading quotas would distribute costs fairly. Were France to pay Malta a very large amount of money to take some of its asylum seekers, the money may still not be enough for Malta to process all claims in an efficient manner, forcing asylum seekers into detention facilities in Malta until their claims are heard.
Another potential worry could be that if a country is paid or required to process an asylum claim, they may refuse to recognise these asylum seekers as refugees, even if they merit this status. The more money a country receives to deal with claims, the greater the incentive for it to process more claims in a shorter period of time: potentially rejecting claims quickly, agreeing to process more, and then rejecting these still. This is especially worrisome for countries, such as Spain, who have a history of abusing refugees and asylum seekers. Other states may accept refugees, but generally deny permanent residency or likely paths to citizenship, as in Germany.
A final concern relates to EU funding for immigration control in third countries to prevent onward migration to Europe. Some of these funds go to detention centres, including the one in the Nafusa Mountains. The Libyan government is paid to keep refugees within its borders so that they do not reach Europe, but there is little genuine protection: a key EU goal.
When the EU funds third countries, this may also encourage refugees to try and reach Europe, undermining the EU goal of securing its borders. Though detention in Libya may seem to prevent individuals from getting on a boat to Italy, it may also encourage them to try: paying off guards to escape detention, and then smugglers to escape the country. Even if over 20,000 migrants died at sea over the last two decades, and 3,000 in 2014, it is likely that many more died within Libya, including in detention. Some refugees may be attempting to cross the Mediterranean to escape the very conditions created to prevent them from reaching Europe.
For a quota mechanism to ensure refugees are protected, it must guarantee that EU states do not reject asylum seekers with strong claims to refugee status. One solution would be to create a separate EU body for processing all asylum claims. However, such a body may face political pressure to reject claims because every state would need to accept a proportion of them, thereby ensuring every state has an interest in their claims being rejected. This is not a definitive reason for opposing quota trading, but rather a reason to make certain that the process for determining who is a refugee is especially strong and unbiased.
Furthermore, to guarantee refugees are protected in a trading scheme, no state should be able to pay another state to accept refugees for less money than the cost of processing claims.
Finally, payment schemes should not be extended to third countries outside of the EU who have failed to provide refugee protection. Funding detention centres in third countries may fail to protect refugees, and encourages onward migration to Europe.
Ultimately, some may still object to a quota mechanism. If migration is a right, we may struggle to see how it can be subject to quotas. However, quota trading needn’t be a commodification of rights, but a way of distributing costs. It would ensure that states that accept disproportionately more asylum seekers are compensated for doing so, and those who accept fewer pay for the privilege.
Mollie Gerver , PhD Candidate, Department of Government, London School of Economics,
Some Christian Thoughts and Initiatives
“What is needed is a system of prevention, rather than cure, such as the new UN ‘early warning system’. They aim to detect as soon as possible if and where the conditions arise that will cause people to flee”.
(Robin Schneider, Social Anthropologist, Berlin Institute for Comparative Social Research).
…the situation in Europe is not as dramatic as many newspapers and politicians pretend. Yet, why are Europeans so unwilling to admit more foreigners into their countries? According to Ute Osterkamp (Psychologist, Free University in Berlin)… the real cause of the hostility is the existential uncertainty confronting many Europeans. …people do not put the reason – and thus the solution – for this uncertainty with themselves, but with others, with foreigners. “The government should …create jobs (rather) than to create tightly closed asylum centres” Mrs Osterkamp explained.
Refugees & the Future of Europe, World Student Christian Federation, 23 August 2013
Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) website:
Some of the recent efforts and areas of interest related to the asylum issues in Europe have included:
- raising awareness of the journey to Europe and its effect in the lives of refugees;
- meeting stranded refugees;
- tracing where refugee and national churches are connecting;
- highlighting various training opportunities;
- connecting refugees to churches;
- building-up “Welcome Centres”
- supporting resettlement opportunities;
- affecting EU policy
Some news clips published on the RHP website, for prayer:
*The European Commission is set to propose next week that 40,000 asylum seekers who have arrived by boat in Italy and Greece should be relocated across the continent in response to what it considers an emergency situation in both countries. The proposal, revealed to Reuters by an EU source familiar with a draft, follows plans announced last week for the European Union to take in 20,000 asylum-seekers currently living outside the bloc. The Commission has also set a quota system, based on a country’s size and economic health, for those resettled migrants as well as for those relocated within the EU. The EU measure is due to be finalised on Wednesday and would need majority support from EU nations expecting to take in some of the migrants (Fri May 22, 2015).
(some good news for a change, my comment): *”I am really amazed at how much this country has changed – even a decade ago this would have created anger and distrust, but today I’m hearing nothing but welcome for the new refugees – people are being really open,” says Zerai Kiros Abraham, a former Eritrean refugee who now runs Project Moses, a refugee-settlement charity in Frankfurt. And Susanne Simmler, head of the regional council. “We have labour shortages and demographic changes here, so we need new people – and a rural region like this normally does not attract immigrants.” “For now, the big question, across the country, is where to house them all.” (May 23, 2015)
*…tens of thousands of migrants and refugees — desperate to escape violence and poverty at home — have opted for the safer Balkan land route through the former Yugoslavia and into the E.U. through Hungary. Last month alone 7,000 migrants and refugees — primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — crossed the frontier between Serbia and Hungary, according to Frontex. Last April, just 900 crossed there (May 22, 2015)
*Pray for Israel, they have received thousands of Jewish refugees from Ukraine (Nov 2014).
*Asylum seekers have become easy target for human traffickers. In Italy last week 4000 children were missing from the refugee centers (Nov 2014).
*The UN refugee agency warned Tuesday that as many as 400,000 people may flee to Turkey from Syria’s Kurdish region to escape attacks by the Islamic State group. Turkey, already hosting some 1.5 million refugees from more than three years of war in Syria, has come under mounting pressure amid the latest influx. (Oct 2014)
(General comment re this document: all highlighting mine)