Following months of political squabbling, European leaders have reached a controversial agreement on Europe-bound migration and refugee flows. The measures were agreed to on June 27, in Brussels, as part of a wider summit on vital issues affecting the European Union. Topping the summit’s agenda was the question of migration and security, which has been a source of considerable tension. The action plan includes a controversial proposal to set up offshore “control centres” for screening and processing migrants, and to further increase funding for Turkey and governments in North Africa to stem migration. And critically, following a dispute over the fate of refugees on board the Aquarius vessel, the 28 EU countries agreed to share responsibility over migrants rescued at sea.
Moreover, the deal aims to create legislation to further control the movement of asylum seekers within Europe. For some, the deal was welcomed as a great achievement. It was a “positive step towards more solidarity,” for EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. German leader Angela Merkel, meanwhile, recognizes that implementation will take considerable time and Italy’s Matteo Salvini wants to see “concrete commitments” immediately.
Several international organizations and news agencies have criticized the agreement. Aljazeera and Reuters referred to it as a “hard-fought but vaguely worded” deal. One article posits that such a comprehensive plan would be extremely difficult to implement and would certainly contain human rights implications. The most controversial idea is the construction of “regional disembarkation platforms” which, according to the EU, would protect migrants from human traffickers and embarking on dangerous journeys to reach Europe.
The UNHCR has condemned the proposal and Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, from Doctors Without Borders, described it as “passing the buck.” Oxfam accused the European states of wanting to “offload their responsibilities to countries outside the EU.” Furthermore, on the other side of the Mediterranean, no African country has agreed to host a refugee centre. Issues such as distrust, asymmetry of power, and colonialism lie at the heart of any discussion between the EU and the African Union. Libya’s Foreign Minister said his country “categorically refuses” to host such a facility. Similarly, when the Tunisian ambassador to the EU was asked, he responded “the answer is clear: no!” Critics have argued this type of strategy sees migrants not as individuals with rights, but as commodities. The experiences of Guantanamo Bay, Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s detention centres are clear evidence of the dehumanizing implications of outsourcing border control.
Rather than a threat to state security, it is important that EU leaders view increased migration as a result of human insecurity that arises through global inequality. Any attempt to influence immigration should have this idea at its core. If not, the plan will work only to appease European hardliners, and is likely to fail the most vulnerable.
The deal is a reaction to the migrant and refugee crisis that has been affecting Europe, particularly since 2015, a year in which over a million people arrived. The implications of this crisis are multi-faceted. In Europe, the poorly-handled inflow of people has disrupting effects on established societies. Anti-immigrant feelings, in turn, prove to be instrumental in the rise of the ‘far-right.’ Simultaneously, on the other side of the Mediterranean, European anti-migration schemes, such as those aimed at curbing migration flowing from Libya and Turkey into Europe, are ignoring the underlying political, economic, and social problems of the source countries.
At sea, attention has been drawn to NGO rescue-ships carrying hundreds of refugees, such as the Aquarius and the Proactiva Open Arms, which were denied entrance to Italy and Malta. The Aquarius, carrying over 600 migrants, landed in Valencia on the 18th of June; while the latter arrived in Barcelona with 60 rescued migrants on board, on the 4th of July. The delays resulted in further consequences at sea. Doctors Without Borders claimed last week was “the deadliest in the Mediterranean this year,” as 220 people drowned. The UNHCR has said it expects about 80,000 people to arrive by sea in 2018.
The arrival of thousands of migrants and refugees is heightening racist attitudes in Europe. These result in anti-immigration policies which put migrants’ lives at risk and violate their human rights – such as smuggling, people trafficking, or detention centres in unstable states. Those who manage to get ashore, enter a poorly integrated asylum process which often leaves them disenfranchised – particularly in areas where the far-right has gained ascendency. Marginalization leads to segregation and resentment grows further. This vicious cycle evidences the urgent need to create better policies and launch an integrated approach to migration control in order to prevent radicalization of ideas and generalized human suffering. An action-plan is necessary, and European leaders must agree on a strategy that places humans at its centre. For a start, any agreement should be based on meaningful cooperation with African neighbours.
Furthermore, EU’s heads of state should recognize that racism in Europe is not ‘something from the past.’ Daniel Trilling, writing for The Guardian, argues that an urgent approach to migration should prioritize both mass international resettlement of refugees, and the creation of temporary work visa schemes to facilitate circular migration for economic migrants. Importantly, European leaders must not ignore the dehumanizing consequences of immigration efforts focused solely on securitization.
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