Disrupting, but still not solving – EU policy toward migrants

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Lampedusa_noborder_2007-2This Monday the EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) has launched the EU Naval operation EUNAVFOR Med aimed at disrupting human trafficking business, which – only in first four months of 2015 – led to the death of nearly 1800 people.  The number of migrants illegally crossing the EU border through the Mediterranean Sea has raised significantly since the last year. International Organisation on Migration (IOM) estimates, that because of the war and ISIS terror in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other sensitive places in the nearest neighbourhood this number could be as high as 30 000 by the end of the year.

The first phase of EUNAVFOR Med operation is aimed at collecting data, identifying networks of most influential smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean Region. Working in full compliance with international law, the operation seeks recognition by the UN Security Council before moving to the second phase which would allow actions such as capturing or destroying smugglers’ vessels. The costs of the operation are estimated at EUR 11.82 million (two months start up phase and an initial mandate of 12 months).

This operation is only one leg of the immediate EU reaction to the migration crisis. Statement formulated by the European Council, seconded by the European Parliament’s resolution in the late April envisaged a multidimensional approach to the crisis, both in the short and the long term. Ideally, providing a balance between managing the borders and saving lives of people, it was meant not only to amend the catastrophic decision of closing down Mare Nostrum Mission replaced by the EU’s limited Triton operation in late 2014, but also to effectively tackle new uncontrolled waves of migrants caused by war, terror and increasing poverty in numerous African countries. The four pillars of this new approach include:

  • reducing the incentives for irregular migration
  • saving lives and securing external borders
  • a strong common asylum policy
  • a new policy on legal migration.

The first two pillars of this approach (including the EUNAVFOR Med operation, enhanced international cooperation and improvement of the smart borders package) are aimed at immediate actions with immediate results – measured simply by reduced number of migrants crossing the borders illegally as well as significant drop in reported causalities. The EU tripled the Triton mission budget and established a new military mission to fulfil those goals. Yet, it is quite disturbing to see in those provisions little space for some refugees striving for immediate help while escaping territories where they have been persecuted for their ethnic background or religion. Destroying vessels of smugglers in the short term might actually result in the increase of causalities and rise of costs of these illegal transfers to Europe. Securing peoples’ lives at the sea is an important point in the migration agenda, however it must be conducted in the light of the core European values such as dignity of human beings and solidarity. What I mean by this, is that the initial rescue operation should be only the first phase of a complex and long term procedure for migrants that would not violate their basic rights and most notably would not dispose them to the risk of being deported back to the ‘hell on Earth’ from which they have just escaped. While mentioning solidarity, it is crucial to reflect on the EU members’ position on the migration policy, especially in the scope of the strong common asylum policy and new policy on legal migrations which stand for III and IV pillar of the proposed approach.

As Susi Denisson and Nick Witney argue in their recent paper ‚Europe’s Neighbourhood: Crisis as the new normal’, in order to make any worthwhile impact on external problems, the EU must practice greater mutual solidarity. On the declaratory stage, all member states are convinced that immediate end effective measures must be taken, yet, when the Commission came with the proposal of redistribution of 40 000 migrants Europe-wide, the reality check was devastating. Spain, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary were only few that expressed their deep concerns with regard to the project and excused themselves for not being able to absorb high numbers of asylum seekers. In the midst of the European impasse, Orban’s Hungary already started violating the “Dublin Rule” by unofficially helping migrants in smooth reaching their destination of choice after crossing the Hungarian border.

EU member states’ reluctance reached its peak today morning, when Jean-Claude Junker, without hidden disappointment, has announced that after 7 hours of emotional and intensive discussions, EU leaders agreed on voluntary asylum agreement without binding quotas. The final agreement on the criteria for the resettlement must be accepted by the end of July, so it is still not obvious how it is going to correspond with the mandatory solutions previously proposed by the Commission. First comments on this agreement include serious doubts on the effectiveness of such solution. There is little evidence of its proper functioning from the past. But the remarks by Donald Tusk, President of the Council after the first session, leave little room for speculation on the dominating views during the talks: “Migrants with no legal right to enter the EU must be returned” – he said in the morning.

The European leaders confirmed today, that “fortress Europe” is still to prevail. The Council’s talks focused mainly on the efficient border control and quotas without referring to the broader picture of the migration challenge: conflicts in the nearest neighbourhood. EU’s incapability to address Syrian and Libyan civil wars in terms of humanitarian tragedies lasts now too long to be accepted. Pointless discussions on how many migrants crossing the EU borders are actually refugees does not solve any long term problems, nor, most notably, save any human lives.  As the recent UNHCR report shows: it is the developing countries, that host nearly 80% of refugees worldwide, not the most developed ones. The EU needs to reach out for the countries of the MENA region and support their struggles with the migration influx far beyond what has been done so far. Apart from the talks with officials, the EU should build up a strong network with various organisations and regional actors on the ground in order to grasp the most accurate picture of what kind of assistance is needed and how refugees can be helped. Yet, having done all that, it does not mean that the EU shall shut down its borders and turn its back on those in need. Migrants will find their way into Europe one way or another and it is our responsibility not to condemn them to death while they’re on their way.

Photo source: Flickr, Noborder Network

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Marta Makowska

Marta Makowska -€“ doktorantka na Wydziale Dziennikarstwa i Nauk Politycznych UW. Magister politologii Instytutu Nauk Politycznych i Stosunków Międzynarodowych UJ. Przez ponad trzy lata działaczka Koła Studentów Stosunków Międzynarodowych UJ. Stypendystka programu Erasmus w Instytucie Nauk Politycznych w Paryżu (Sciences Po Paris). Absolwentka studiów podyplomowych „Akademia Menedżerów III Sektora” z zakresu zarządzania NGO w Collegium Civitas w Warszawie. Obszary zainteresowań: Bliski Wschód i Afryka Północna, Unia Europejska, Turcja, Francja, wybrane aspekty filozofii XX wieku. kontakt: marta.makowska(at)centruminicjatyw.org

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