Somali woman’s passport washed ashore on the beach of the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis

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.