28 June 2018

"With new migration deals, we become even more responsible for the fate of refugees"

Handen die in een hek klauwen

The plan to close more Turkey-like deals with countries outside the EU is a source of concern for some Utrecht University researchers. This plan is on the table at a major European migration summit, but experts in the field of human rights, European law and migration flows, give it little chance of success.

Now that Italy recently refused several boats with refugees, the EU wants to relieve the pressure on these typical "arrival countries". One of the ideas is to create "hot spots", supported by European money, in North African countries such as Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, or Central European countries like Albania or Macedonia. These camps, supported by the EU and the UN refugee organization UNHCR could them be the place to make a selection between refugees, eligible for asylum in the EU, or "economic" refugees. The first group can then be divided among the European countries, the last group can be sent back to their home country.

Bootvluchtelingen © iStockphoto.com/jcarillet

Poor living conditions under the Turkey deal

This closely resembles the Turkey deal, which Ilse van Liempt, lecturer in Social Geography at Utrecht University and migration expert, conducted last year with colleagues, through a scholarship from NWO, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Few refugees have been sent back. Many are still living in poor conditions on Greek islands. Van Liempt: "In reports the Turkey deal is often stated as a success, because the number of migrants who have come to Europe decreased, but this is not only due to this deal. We saw a peak in 2015 when most of the people left Syria and in the years that followed, that is the natural course of asylum migration, which always goes in peaks and lows. People also went through other routes, as soon as they heard that the Greek islands were difficult to leave, under the Turkey deal. "

That same criticism of the Turkey deal is shared by Antoine Buyse, professor of Human Rights at Utrecht University. He shared his thoughts earlier this week in an interview (in Dutch) on NPO Radio 1. Buyse also has quite some critical comments on the legal consequences of the EU's intentions to close similiar deal with other countries, such as Tunisia.

As long as we can't guarantee that asylum seekers are treated fairly in those countries, we shouldn't close deals with them
Ilse van Liempt
Lecturer in Social Geography and migration expert, at Utrecht University

Van Liempt and her colleagues drew even more grim conclusions from their research. "Human rights are violated on a large scale under the Turkey Deal, by uncalled for long-term detention, very poor access to an asylum procedure, no access to legal assistance, to interpreters. As long as we, as Europe can not guarantee with certainty that asylum seekers receive fair and just proceedings in the countries whith whom we close deals, we shouldn't close those deals,


Legitimately stop and hold people

Salvo Nicolosi, lecturer of European and International Law at Utrecht University, also sees little merit in the "hotspots", "disembarkation platforms" or new "reception camps" outside the EU. "There are legal objections, it is not at all clear to what extent you can legitimately stop and hold an individual in, for example, Libya or Niger, while he or she tries to reach another country. I also wonder which guarantees would be agreed on human rights and refugee rights."

It's totally unclear to what extent you can legitimately stop and hold an individual while he or she tries to reach another country.
Salvo Nicolosi
Lecturer International and European Law at the Faculty of Law, Economics, Governance and Organisation

Nicolosi, who is also in Brussels on Friday to discuss the outcome of the summit, has seen European leaders struggle for years. "I personally think it is high time for a regulatory framework under EU legislation for humanitarian visas for refugees. This of course in a context which also involves a reconsideration of the Dublin Regulation on the State responsible for an asylum application in the EU."

"In addition to a legal and political crisis, the refugee crisi is also a complete lack of solidarity between the EU member states", according to Nicolosi. "Everyone defends only their own interests, with a detrimental effect on finding a workable solution." Social geographer Van Liempt notes that the energetic German Chancellor Merkel, a few years after "Wir schaffen das", is now also under great political pressure in her home country.

If the EU supports these external processing centers, it is responsible for what happens there, under European and international legislation
Laura Henderson
Post-doctoral legal researcher human rights, Center for Global Challenges, Utrecht University

Laura Henderson, post-doctoral researcher on democracy and human rights at the Centre for Global Challenges, at Utrecht University, says that even if deals are closed with, for example, North African countries, they are responsible under international and European human rights law for the full protection of human rights at these centers. "This means ensuring that these people will actually be able to request asylum at these external processing centers, that the procedure is fair and that the conditions meet a certain minimum standard. Further, it means that the EU must ensure that after the processing both those who are granted asylum and those are not, these people do not get put in situations where their lives are at risk or there is a risk of torture." 

Barcelona welcomes refugees

This would require quite a large, expensive and long-term intervention in the North African countries' local systems of administration, politics and law."
Personally, Henderson would rather see a different approach to the refugee crisis. "Promoting peace and stability in the countries from which there people flee. Or explicitly welcoming refugees, as city policy. Barcelona did this recently. Barcelona sees refugees as a positive contribution to the diversity of their city, unlike some of the tourists that visit the city. Another example is the city of Utrecht that has chosen to facilitate the integration of asylum seekers as soon as possible after their arrival by allowing them to get education, among others in cooperation with the University of Utrecht's InclUUsion programme."