21st Sep 2023

German plan to offshore asylum 'unworkable' declare NGOs

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German ideas for possibly offshoring asylum to countries outside Europe are unworkable, according to civil society.

The comments follow reports that the German government is exploring options of transferring people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea to north African states to then have their asylum claims processed there.

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But NGOs working in the field of asylum and migration say the proposals will unlikely ever see the light of day. Among them is Catherine Woollard of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a Brussels-based NGO.

"It was pushed into the coalition agreement during the formation of the current government. It won't lead to anything," she said on Monday (13 February).

Woollard noted that the first major discussions on the topic at the EU-level had taken place 20 years ago. "It never happens because the legal, political and practical obstacles are extensive," she said.

Woollard also said other countries have no interest in hosting asylum processing centres for Europe, despite pressure, threats and bribes.

Both Denmark and the UK have tried with Rwanda, but with zero results. Denmark adopted a law in 2021 to offshore asylum procedures.

But earlier this year, Copenhagen suspended talks with Rwanda because it did not want to go at it alone.

The UK, which left EU three years ago, paid Rwanda €160m up front. Legal wrangling and challenges have so far scuppered those plans.

But Germany's new special commissioner for migration Joachim Stamp, from the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), appears willing to try.

Ahead of an EU summit in Brussels last week, where migration was featured, he said "people rescued on the Mediterranean could be brought to North Africa for processing" their asylum claims.

But Stephanie Pope, Oxfam's EU migration expert, said the idea was just another attempt to push EU's responsibilities onto non-EU countries.

"The right to seek asylum is a fundamental right under European and international law," she said.

Similar statements were made by the European Commission, which said that such proposals raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection.

The right to claim asylum in the EU instead needs to be upheld, said Niamh Nic Carthaigh, director of EU policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

She said the German proposal is also not in line with fundamental rights.

"It's going to be expensive. It's not also in line with our legal and moral responsibilities," she said.

Nic Carthaigh said "the focus on fences over fundamental rights" instead needs to shift towards improving the safety of asylum seekers and refugees.

"What's worrying is the kind of increasing normalisation of this discourse," she said, noting that three-quarters of the world's displaced are already in low and middle income countries.

A fifth of those are found in least developed countries, she added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has in the past also poured cold water on ideas to offshore asylum to other countries.

"Such efforts to evade responsibility run counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the Global Compact on Refugees," he has said.

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