The Ministers of Interior of different EU Member States – among them the German Minister Thomas de Maiziére – suggest the setting up of “asylum centers in Northern Africa”.
EU camps shall keep refugees from attempts to cross the Mediterranean – allegedly to prevent deaths at sea. Since months the talk about so-called ‘Welcome Centers’ or ‘camps in Northern Africa’ overshadows the discussion about European refugee policies. Revitalizing the evergreen ‘camps somewhere in Africa’ comes at a time when Europe has consciously reduced its capacity for rescue at sea. This means that the death rate in the Mediterranean is rising further – more than 400 refugees have died on their way to Europe within the last weeks – more than 4000 died last year.
“This debate is cynical, unrealistic and a deception in order to cover up Europe’s complete inaction in regard to the enormous numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean and the misery of refugees on the other side” says Karl Kopp, Director of European Affairs at PRO ASYL.
European cacophony – complete inaction facing massive number of deaths
Ahead of today’s European Council meeting, Italian Minister of the Interior Alfano announced that Italy wants to set up international ‘reception facilities’ in Tunisia, Niger and Sudan. A ‘screening procedure’ shall identify refugees there. These refugees are then to be distributed among EU Member States. Those ‘not in need of protection’ are to be returned. EU Commissioner Avramopoulos swaggers that protection seekers could turn to EU Embassies in order to have their asylum claim assessed. German Minister of the Interior de Maiziére prides himself to have initiated this debate about ‘Welcome Centers’. Just before that he heavily advocated for the termination of the Italian rescue at sea operation ‘Mare Nostrum’, because it had turned into a ‘bridge to Europe’.
If it were about relieving the suffering of refugees – as claimed in all statements – then the flawed Frontex mission ‘Triton’ would have been suspended and a European Rescue at Sea Service would have been set up alongside a generous admission program for refugees on EU level. Numerous refugee camps already exist on the African continent as well as in the states neighboring Syria and Iraq. The crucial challenge is to offer refugees in these camps protection and a life in dignity within the EU.
For legal entry channels for refugees and rescue at sea
Coordinated admission: Since the capacities in Syria’s neighboring states have already reached their limits a long time ago, Europe has to resettlement refugees in a coordinated way. Commissioner Avromopoulos could fulfill his tasks by organizing a European resettlement conference for Syria and Iraq. He should advocate for the utilization of existing instruments like humanitarian admission and resettlement programs, unbureaucratic granting of visas and extended family reunification to spare hundreds of thousands of refugees from the perilous journey over sea.
Evacuation from Libya: Refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia etc. struggle for their lives in Libya. An evacuation of these stranded protection seekers would be a humanitarian imperative. The EU-States have quickly and carefully extracted their own nationals from the country. Refugees were left behind without protection and are forced to take the often deadly passage to Europe by boat.
European Rescue at Sea Agency: The Mediterranean is our sea; rescuing boat people is a common European responsibility. Europe has to Europeanize and massively expand ‘Mare Nostrum’, creating a civil European Rescue at Sea Service.
Stop push-backs at Europe’s external borders: At the land borders of the EU (Bulgaria, Greece, Ceuta, Melilla) protection seekers are being systematically, illegally pushed back. Adhering to human right standards would grant refugees access to EU territory.
Don’t let down refugees and EU border states: arriving refugees need to be allowed to travel on to their families and communities in other EU states. If the new Greek government would seriously introduce a humane refugee policy and stop push-backs at its land and sea borders, then EU states would have to allow new arrivals to travel on in return.