Position paper by PRO ASYL, medico international and Bread for the World about European policy of externalisation of border controls that leads to massive violations of human rights.

Sin­ce the sum­mer of 2015 hundreds of thou­sands of asyl­um see­kers have crossed Euro­pean bor­ders. Europe’s heads of sta­te and govern­ments are now going ever­y­thing in their powers to gain con­trol over the move­ments of tho­se fle­e­ing and migra­ting: The rou­te via the Bal­kans is offi­ci­al­ly clo­sed and depor­ta­ti­ons to Tur­key have star­ted. The relo­ca­ti­on of bor­der con­trols to count­ries of tran­sit and ori­gin – to Tur­key, but also to Wes­tern and Eas­tern Afri­can count­ries – is at the cent­re of the EU stra­tegy. Mean­while peo­p­le keep dying in high num­bers at Europe’s exter­nal bor­ders, and the EU is pre­pared to sacri­fice the indi­vi­du­al right to asyl­um for its poli­cy of secu­ri­ti­sa­ti­on and con­trol. The­re is an urgent need for con­cer­ted ans­wers from civil society.

Bread for the World, med­ico inter­na­tio­nal and PRO ASYL have repea­ted­ly and vehe­men­t­ly cri­ti­cis­ed Europe’s poli­ci­es of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on of bor­der con­trols which lead to mas­si­ve vio­la­ti­ons of the human rights of asyl­um see­kers and migrants. The­se cri­ti­cisms have been voi­ced in the con­text of a publi­ca­ti­on deve­lo­ped in co-ope­ra­ti­on with part­ners from the Glo­bal South (Im Schat­ten der Zita­del­le, 2013), through panel dis­cus­sions at World Social Forums and other col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve events. The con­fe­rence entit­led “Aus den Augen aus dem Sinn” (Out of sight, out of mind), held on Febru­ary 23, 2016, also offe­red oppor­tu­ni­ties for exch­an­ge and net­wor­king for refugee‑, human rights- and deve­lo­p­ment orga­ni­sa­ti­ons from Afri­ca, the Midd­le East and Euro­pe. It was the unani­mous fin­ding of this col­la­bo­ra­ti­on that repres­si­ve poli­ci­es and the defen­si­ve atti­tu­de towards refu­gees are unac­cep­ta­ble, both from a human rights and peace ori­en­ted perspective.

A new scale of the policies of externalisation

In Euro­pe, the year 2016 has been cha­rac­te­ri­sed by an acce­le­ra­ti­on of poli­ci­es of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on and shif­ting of con­trols on refu­gees and migrants. Howe­ver, the­se EU stra­te­gies of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on and defence are by no means new. Through the Rabat con­fe­rence in July 2006, the Khar­to­um pro­cess which was initia­ted in Novem­ber 2014, and last year’s streng­thening of a EU/Turkey col­la­bo­ra­ti­on and EU/Africa sum­mit in Val­let­ta, the EU and its mem­ber sta­tes have intro­du­ced num­e­rous action plans, pro­gram­mes and pro­jects who­se aim is to deter migrants and refu­gees, ide­al­ly befo­re they even reach Europe’s exter­nal bor­ders. It is made ever har­der for them to even lea­ve their count­ries of ori­gin and pass through tran­sit sta­tes, befo­re rea­ching Europe’s exter­nal bor­ders, while at the same time the risk of being sent back to unsafe count­ries of ori­gin or tran­sit is increasing.

Count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit, such as Mali, Niger and Tur­key, which have all been inte­gra­ted into bor­der secu­ri­ti­sa­ti­on and the repul­si­on of asyl­um see­kers and migrants, recei­ve lar­ge sums of money as part of the­se arran­ge­ments. The­se funds are spent on bor­der secu­ri­ty tech­no­lo­gy, trai­ning of bor­der guards, read­mis­si­on agree­ments and joint bor­der pat­rols – but not on actu­al con­cepts for pro­tec­tion or impro­ving recep­ti­on con­di­ti­ons. Count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit are also expec­ted to col­la­bo­ra­te in com­ba­ting “human traf­fi­ckers”. The­se acti­vi­ties are por­tray­ed as mea­su­res that pro­tect refu­gees and migrants, but they do not­hing to miti­ga­te the root cau­ses that com­pel peo­p­le to flee their count­ries. Ins­tead of pro­tec­ting refu­gees, the­se mea­su­res force peo­p­le to attempt ever more dan­ge­rous rou­tes and to put them­sel­ves at the mer­cy of often dubio­us “ser­vice pro­vi­ders” in order to cross the border.

The pro­ces­ses and nego­tia­ti­ons of the­se co-ope­ra­ti­ons are usual­ly opaque and are car­ri­ed out away from the public gaze, thus impe­ding cri­ti­cal scru­ti­ny by civil socie­ty. In their nego­tia­ti­ons with the EU and its mem­ber sta­tes count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit are redu­ced to mere vas­sal sta­tes to whom eit­her money, libe­ra­li­sa­ti­on of visa regu­la­ti­ons or vague mobi­li­ty con­ces­si­ons for sel­ec­ted groups are pro­mi­sed in return for ser­vices in the com­ba­ting of migra­ti­on. By con­trast, sta­tes who are not wil­ling to co-ope­ra­te face pen­al­ties such as trade sanc­tions or embargos.

»Under the mot­to “Out of sight, out of mind”, Europe’s poli­ci­es of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on aim at ren­de­ring invi­si­ble refu­gees and migrants, the vio­la­ti­ons of their rights and the actu­al cau­ses of escape and displacement.«

Interest-driven politics at the expense of human rights

In order to “secu­re” Euro­pean bor­ders against migrants and refu­gees at the behest of the EU, human rights vio­la­ti­ons are put up with in count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit. Bor­der guards are taking bru­tal action against refu­gees and migrants. On paper the­re are mea­su­res for pro­tec­tion of refu­gees and for com­ba­ting the cau­ses of peo­p­le fle­e­ing their count­ries, but in prac­ti­ce they are not car­ri­ed out. On the con­tra­ry, the root cau­ses of forced migra­ti­on are only exa­cer­ba­ted by len­ding fur­ther legi­ti­ma­cy to regimes respon­si­ble for human rights vio­la­ti­ons, vio­lence and per­se­cu­ti­on by invol­ving them in bor­der secu­ri­ty arrangements.

The poli­ci­es of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on also have a dra­ma­tic effect on the socie­ties of count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit which are taken into ser­vice by Euro­pe for the pur­po­ses of its own migra­ti­on con­trols. Regio­nal and natio­nal con­flicts in the socie­ties of the­se count­ries are rat­che­ted up when peo­p­le are held against their will and bor­ders con­trols are built up. Fra­gi­le social and poli­ti­cal con­di­ti­ons, such as at the Horn of Afri­ca, are put under fur­ther strain. In return for finan­cial dis­bur­se­ments dis­hed out by Euro­pe refu­gees and migrants are inten­tio­nal­ly kept in tran­sit sta­tes, whe­re it is all but impos­si­ble for them to make a living. The result is a despe­ra­te life in a hol­ding pat­tern. Stig­ma­tis­a­ti­on and cri­mi­na­li­sa­ti­on, pro­mo­ted by poli­tics and the media, lead to an inten­si­fi­ca­ti­on of racism and xeno­pho­bia against refu­gees and migrants.

The expe­ri­en­ces of asyl­um see­kers and migrants, be it in Tur­key, Moroc­co or Mau­ri­ta­nia, give rise to the sus­pi­ci­on that the Euro­pean Uni­on tri­es to meet human rights stan­dards and streng­then insti­tu­ti­ons working to pro­tect the­se stan­dards only as long as its own inte­rests are not com­pro­mi­sed. Ins­tead of gene­rous­ly accep­ting asyl­um see­kers, buil­ding on and streng­thening the gre­at soli­da­ri­ty exis­ting within civil socie­ty, impro­ving mari­ne res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons and making fami­ly reuni­fi­ca­ti­on and legal (onward) tra­vel into and within Euro­pe pos­si­ble, the order of the day is expul­si­on and isolation.

Ever more peo­p­le are depri­ved of their rights and ren­de­red vul­nerable at the Euro­pean Union’s exter­nal bor­ders. The EU-Tur­key deal, so hosti­le towards refu­gees, inva­li­da­tes human rights and sacri­fices them to the inte­rest-dri­ven and uns­cru­pu­lous con­duct of the EU. Tur­key is expec­ted to ensu­re that migra­to­ry move­ments to Greece via the Aege­an are stop­ped. In return, Erdogan’s govern­ment has been pro­mi­sed up to €6bn in reli­ef funds and visa libe­ra­li­sa­ti­ons for Tur­ki­sh natio­nals. In order to be able to easi­ly deport refu­gees from Greece to Tur­key, it is neces­sa­ry to clas­si­fy the lat­ter one as a “safe third coun­try”. In the light of the human rights situa­ti­on in gene­ral and the cata­stro­phic situa­ti­on of asyl­um see­kers in the coun­try and Turkey’s geo­gra­phi­cal limi­ta­ti­on on the Gen­e­va Con­ven­ti­on this is com­ple­te­ly unac­cep­ta­ble. Asyl­um see­kers depor­ted to Tur­key face arbi­tra­ry detenti­on and depor­ta­ti­on into war zones.

In Novem­ber 2014, the EU initia­ted the “Khar­to­um Pro­cess” with the nati­ons of the Afri­can Horn – ano­ther poten­ti­al­ly scan­da­lous set of co-ope­ra­ti­ons. Under the­se plans, the EU will co-ope­ra­te with regimes such as Isay­as Afwerki’s mili­ta­ry dic­ta­tor­ship in Eri­trea or that of the Suda­ne­se Dic­ta­tor Omar Al-Bas­hir, who is wan­ted by the Inter­na­tio­nal Cri­mi­nal Court, in the com­ba­ting of “ille­gal” migra­to­ry move­ments. Inter­nal EU docu­ments pro­vi­de evi­dence for far-rea­ching plans for the impro­ve­ment of bor­der manage­ment – sup­port in the inte­rest of the obs­truc­tion of fle­e­ing. Such finan­cial assis­tance goes to regimes that are among tho­se chief­ly respon­si­ble for the cau­ses of forced migration.

»The needs and wis­hes of indi­vi­du­al migrants and refu­gees and the wel­fa­re and the inte­rests of the socie­ties whe­re they ori­gi­na­te must be taken into account and form the basis for refu­gee and migra­ti­on poli­ci­es that are joint­ly car­ri­ed out by count­ries of ori­gin, tran­sit and destination.«

The right to asylum must be upheld

Human digni­ty and the rights deri­ved from it, among them the right to asyl­um, are non-nego­tia­ble. The EU and its mem­ber sta­tes have ack­now­led­ged the right to asyl­um in many inter­na­tio­nal trea­ties, but with the focus on exter­na­li­sa­ti­on, the cur­rent refu­gee- and migra­ti­on poli­ci­es incre­asing­ly under­mi­ne this right. The dis­cus­sed limi­ta­ti­ons and quo­tas for the admis­si­on of refu­gees, by which a pro­por­ti­on of peo­p­le are denied the oppor­tu­ni­ty to exer­cise the right to asyl­um, ren­ders the noti­on of this right meanin­g­less and ques­ti­ons the essence of the individual’s right to asyl­um. Peo­p­le who­se life is threa­ten­ed must be given the oppor­tu­ni­ty to find pro­tec­tion in safe count­ries. Ins­tead of being con­ti­nuous­ly under­mi­ned, this right must be con­so­li­da­ted. In order to safe­guard it, legal and safe rou­tes must be crea­ted, enab­ling peo­p­le to find pro­tec­tion wit­hout ris­king their lives. The fight against so-cal­led human traf­fi­ckers and peo­p­le smugg­lers – incre­asing­ly fought by mili­ta­ry means – comes to not­hing if the­se legal and safe access rou­tes con­ti­nue to be blocked.

What is nee­ded are refu­gee- and migra­ti­on poli­ci­es that are based on human rights, soli­da­ri­ty and respon­si­bi­li­ty, and – equal­ly important – a fun­da­men­tal shift of per­spec­ti­ve and poli­ci­es that would enable a turn towards human deve­lo­p­ment and away from mili­ta­riza­ti­on and securitisation.

A pre­re­qui­si­te for such a shift would be the rea­li­sa­ti­on that pro­blems and cri­ses in a glo­ba­li­sed world are inter­con­nec­ted and can­not sim­ply be con­tai­ned local­ly. A “fight against the cau­ses of flight” that lives up to its name requi­res the initi­al con­fes­si­on that it is not pos­si­ble to “com­bat” the cau­ses of forced migra­ti­on in iso­la­ti­on in the count­ries of ori­gin, as some poli­ti­ci­ans’ claims sug­gest. Ins­tead, the migra­to­ry move­ments point towards a respon­si­bi­li­ty roo­ted direct­ly in Euro­pe: wea­pons exports and short-sigh­ted inter­ven­ti­ons that fur­ther fuel con­flicts ins­tead of crea­ting sus­tainable per­spec­ti­ves for peace, unfair trade con­di­ti­ons that ruin local mar­kets, as well as green­house gas emis­si­ons and the ensuing cli­ma­te chan­ge, which era­di­ca­tes the liveli­hood of many peo­p­le – all the­se issues requi­re fun­da­men­tal poli­ti­cal answers.

Deve­lo­p­ment aid, too, must live up to its pur­po­se and must not be abu­sed to bring about con­ces­si­ons for co-ope­ra­ti­on in the con­trol of refu­gees and migra­ti­on from count­ries of ori­gin and tran­sit. The con­di­tio­na­li­sa­ti­on of funds inten­ded for deve­lo­p­men­tal co-ope­ra­ti­on for bor­der secu­ri­ty and pre­ven­ti­on of fle­e­ing must not continue.

Under the mot­to “Out of sight, out of mind”, Europe’s poli­ci­es of exter­na­li­sa­ti­on aim at ren­de­ring invi­si­ble refu­gees and migrants, the vio­la­ti­ons of their rights and the actu­al cau­ses of escape and dis­pla­ce­ment. The depar­tu­re point for huma­ne and soli­da­ry refu­gee poli­ci­es should pre­cis­e­ly be this: The needs and wis­hes of indi­vi­du­al migrants and refu­gees and the wel­fa­re and the inte­rests of the socie­ties whe­re they ori­gi­na­te must be taken into account and form the basis for refu­gee and migra­ti­on poli­ci­es that are joint­ly car­ri­ed out by count­ries of ori­gin, tran­sit and destination.

The past year has shown once again: The­se ans­wers must emer­ge from a Euro­pe of social move­ments built on soli­da­ri­ty. Sup­port­ed by net­wor­king bey­ond the Euro­pean bor­ders among the social forces that are strugg­ling for the pro­tec­tion of the rights of refu­guees and for an open-min­ded Europe.