The EU’s Com­mon Asyl­um Policy One gets the impres­si­on that the aim of the EU’s com­mon asyl­um poli­cy is not to pro­tect refu­gees, but to pro­tect Euro­pe from refugees. Rather than reli­e­ving the bur­den on the poor regi­ons whe­re the refu­gees come from, the mem­ber sta­tes are in the pro­cess of shif­ting respon­si­bi­li­ty to them.

The EU’s Com­mon Asyl­um Policy

One gets the impres­si­on that the aim of the EU’s com­mon asyl­um poli­cy is not to pro­tect refu­gees, but to pro­tect Euro­pe from refugees.

Rather than reli­e­ving the bur­den on the poor regi­ons whe­re the refu­gees come from, the mem­ber sta­tes are in the pro­cess of shif­ting respon­si­bi­li­ty to them. Huma­ni­ty and the right to asyl­um are left by the wayside.

Day after day, peop­le risk their lives in the attempt to get across the Medi­ter­ra­ne­an or the Atlan­tic to Euro­pe. Thousands die becau­se they embark on their voya­ge in over­loa­ded and non-sea­wor­thy ves­sels. Accord­ing to figu­res from the Spa­nish aut­ho­ri­ties, around 6,000 refu­gees and migrants have died on the way from West Afri­ca to the Cana­ry Islands alone.

The high num­ber of deaths is pri­ma­ri­ly rela­ted to the fact that the escape rou­tes are beco­m­ing lon­ger and lon­ger and more and more dan­ge­rous: Fort­ress Euro­pe is fen­cing its­elf off more and more efficiently.

Anyo­ne who would tru­ly like to pre­vent the deaths hap­pe­ning befo­re the gate­ways to Euro­pe must con­si­der ways to enab­le refu­gees and migrants to reach the ter­ri­to­ry of the EU legal­ly and without danger.

Figu­res and proportions

The num­ber of asyl­um see­kers in Ger­ma­ny and Euro­pe has reached a new low. In Ger­ma­ny, only 21,029 new requests for asyl­um were regis­tered in 2006 – the lowest level sin­ce 1977. The num­ber of app­li­ca­ti­ons for asyl­um has drop­ped by more than 27 % com­pa­red with 2005. And in 2005, the 25 coun­tries of the Euro­pean Uni­on recor­ded the lowest num­ber of asyl­um see­kers – 230,000 – sin­ce 1988. This trend con­ti­nued in 2006: fewer than 200,000 new app­li­ca­ti­ons for asyl­um were regis­tered in the ent­i­re EU. Accord­ing to UNHCR, the over­whel­ming majo­ri­ty of refu­gees and dis­pla­ced per­sons remain in deve­lo­ping coun­tries. In ear­ly 2007, more than half a mil­li­on refu­gees from Iraq are in Jor­dan, and Paki­stan and Iran are each play­ing host to more than a mil­li­on Afghan refu­gees. In Afri­ca, some 15 mil­li­on refu­gees and per­sons dis­pla­ced in their own coun­try are see­king shel­ter in their immedia­te neigh­bou­ring regi­on – they gene­ral­ly live in mise­ra­ble camps without ade­qua­te pro­tec­tion or pro­spects. Some examp­les: clo­se to 700,000 peop­le have fled from Sudan to Chad, Ugan­da, Kenya and Ethio­pia. More than 250,000 refu­gees from the Dar­fur Regi­on, Wes­tern Sudan alo­ne are cur­r­ent­ly in Chad. More than 250,000 peop­le have fled from the are­as of Soma­lia torn by civil war to neigh­bou­ring Kenya.

Vio­la­ti­ons of human rights at the edges of Europe

The edges of Euro­pe are wit­nessing dra­ma­tic sce­nes which show that the EU coun­tries are pre­pa­red to renoun­ce fun­da­men­tal human rights. In July 2006, three peop­le were shot and kil­led in Melil­la as they attemp­ted to cross the fen­ces into Euro­pe. The details of the deaths on the bor­der bet­ween Spain and Moroc­co have yet to be clea­red up. Greece remains under sus­pi­ci­on of having thrown refu­gees into the sea in Sep­tem­ber 2006. At least six peop­le died, accord­ing to state­ments by sur­vi­vors, becau­se offi­cials of the Greek coast­guard pushed around 40 peop­le they picked up near the island of Chi­os back into the sea. At the EU’s exter­nal eas­tern bor­ders, vir­tual­ly unno­ti­ced by the public, Che­chen refu­gees have been sent from Slo­va­kia via Ukrai­ni­an intern­ment camps back into the Rus­si­an Fede­ra­ti­on, the very sta­te per­se­cu­ting them. In March 2006, UNHCR repor­ted seri­al depor­ta­ti­ons. Che­chens see­king pro­tec­tion who had mana­ged to reach EU ter­ri­to­ry in Slo­va­kia were refu­sed access to asyl­um pro­ce­du­res – con­tra­ry to the law. Ins­tead, they were sent back to Ukrai­ne and depor­ted from the­re to the Rus­si­an Federation.

For­ward defence

Sin­ce mid-2006, Fron­tex, the Euro­pean bor­der guard agen­cy, has been play­ing an important role in inter­cep­ti­on mea­su­res well ahead of the gate­ways to Euro­pe. Fron­tex ope­ra­ti­ons catch boat­loads of refu­gees whilst they are still in inter­na­tio­nal waters and return them to Afri­can coun­tries of tran­sit or ori­gin. Bet­ween August and Decem­ber 2006, for examp­le, 3,500 refu­gees and migrants were picked up in the Atlan­tic or clo­se to the coast of West Afri­ca in the­se „out of area“ ope­ra­ti­ons and sent back to Sene­gal and Mau­re­ta­nia (Fron­tex press release dated 19 Decem­ber 2006). The tre­at­ment meted out by the Fron­tex bor­der guards asso­cia­ti­on on the high seas to peop­le in need of pro­tec­tion is descri­bed ter­se­ly by Fron­tex direc­tor Colo­nel Ilk­ka Lai­ti­nen: „They aren’t refu­gees, they’­re ille­gal migrants“ (Stan­dard, 21 Decem­ber 2006).

New boun­cers

In a cyni­cal divi­si­on of labour, non-EU coun­tries like Libya, Moroc­co, Mau­re­ta­nia, Ukrai­ne, Tur­key, etc., are given the job of „boun­cer“ at the doors to „Fort­ress Euro­pe“. Take Moroc­co, for examp­le: more than 400 sub-Saha­ran refu­gees and migrants were arres­ted bet­ween Christ­mas 2006 and the New Year and released on the Alge­ri­an bor­der. The­re were cases of seve­re ill-tre­at­ment by Alge­ri­an and Moroccan secu­ri­ty for­ces. Several women were raped during the poli­ce ope­ra­ti­on. A pregnant woman lost her baby. The­se vio­la­ti­ons of human rights form part of a chain of vio­lence against peop­le see­king pro­tec­tion in Moroc­co – and Euro­pe remains silent and loo­ks away.

Loss of credibility

The Euro­pean Uni­on is losing its credi­bi­li­ty in the inter­na­tio­nal deba­te about refu­gees and human rights. A com­mu­ni­ty of 27 demo­cra­ci­es must find a dif­fe­rent respon­se than mili­ta­ry defence ope­ra­ti­ons, the out­sour­cing of pro­tec­tion for refu­gees, and ongo­ing vio­la­ti­ons of human rights. PRO ASYL belie­ves that the uphol­ding of human rights must have the hig­hest prio­ri­ty in the EU: the­se rights app­ly to all peop­le fle­eing or migra­ting. Refu­gees must be gran­ted safe access to the ter­ri­to­ry of the EU and to a fair asyl­um pro­ce­du­re. Any co-ope­ra­ti­on with non-EU coun­tries which dis­re­gard human rights and fun­da­men­tal free­doms must be cea­sed. Euro­pe needs pos­si­bi­li­ties for legal immi­gra­ti­on so that migrants are not for­ced to take dan­ge­rous rou­tes. Other­wi­se, thousands of peop­le will con­ti­nue to die at the exter­nal bor­ders of the EU. Anyo­ne who wants serious­ly to tack­le the cau­ses of for­ced migra­ti­on and flight needs to remo­ve the struc­tures which pro­du­ce pover­ty and misery.

One examp­le is farm sub­si­dies: Europe’s farm sub­si­dies des­troy the mar­kets on the Afri­can con­ti­nent and thus gene­ra­te pover­ty, hun­ger and fresh rea­sons for peop­le to flee. The­se sub­si­dies and pro­tec­tio­n­ism against Afri­can pro­ducts must be reduced.

Ano­t­her examp­le is the fai­led fishe­ries poli­cy: fisher­men in Sene­gal can­not sur­vi­ve on fishing any more becau­se the high­ly sub­si­di­sed fishing fleet of the EU sta­tes has lar­ge­ly emp­tied their waters of fish. Fisher­men from Sene­gal are often left with no choice but to hire out or sell their boats and to embark on the dan­ge­rous voya­ge to the Cana­ry Islands themselves.

Anyo­ne wan­ting to alter the dra­ma­tic imba­lan­ce in the dis­tri­bu­ti­on of oppor­tu­nities for life and deve­lo­p­ment needs to advo­ca­te a dif­fe­rent, fai­rer tra­de, agri­cul­tu­re and fishe­ries poli­cy for the EU.

Karl Kopp is the Euro­pe spe­cia­list of the human rights orga­ni­sa­ti­on Pro Asyl and a board mem­ber of ECRE (Euro­pean Coun­cil on Refu­gees and Exiles).

Trans­la­ti­on: Andrew Sims

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