EU migration policy is cruel and nonsensical
Perhaps no single person embodies all that’s wrong with current EU migration policies than Noori, a Syrian refugee being held in a police station on the Greek Island of Lesbos, waiting anxiously to hear if he will be sent to Turkey.
If he is returned another refugee would gain a place in Europe, and Turkey receives money for keeping the bulk of refugees there and is promised a host of other measures in exchange.
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This is the EU Turkey deal. Noori risks being used as human currency, in the EU’s foreign policy exchange where rights are traded in for short-sighted political gains.
The trend in mobilising EU foreign policy tools towards curbing migration has taken off at break-neck speed, and the European Council this week looks set to further instill it in policy. As well as the EU-Turkey Statement in March, there has been the Joint Way Forward with Afghanistan as well as “migration compacts” between the EU and Lebanon and Jordan. Other agreements are being negotiated with Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Ethiopia and Senegal.
While they differ in substance, the basis is always the same; the EU will provide financial, development assistance and trade ties so long as the country agrees to prevent irregular migration and facilitate the return of people who have tried to seek asylum or a better life in Europe.
Officially the EU and member states deny any causal link between agreeing big bucks to be handed over for development and other assistance and the coincidental signing of migration agreements within days or weeks of said financial promises. The truth of the matter however is obvious to everyone.
A young Afghan man living in appalling conditions at Moria camp who I met recently on Lesbos asked me with despair in his eyes: “Is it true my government took money from the EU so they could have an excuse to send me back?”
We must be clear and honest about the fact that the EU is not trying to externalise responsibility for refugees because it has reached capacity. Having made it to Europe, Noori is in a minority. Of the top 10 countries hosting refugees globally not one is an EU member state.
The facts and figures betray an awkward truth that in the face of one of the world’s worst refugee crises the EU and its member states are engaging in a policy of responsibility-shirking, not sharing.
In the broader frame of EU foreign policy, these policies also create an uneasy incoherence. EU foreign ministers’ recent words that “the protection of civilians in Syria must be a priority for the international community” ring hollow for Syrians like Noori on Lesbos when set against the cruel reality of EU policies.
As bombs rain on Aleppo more people will inevitably flee. EU leaders have wilfully ignored the impact of the deal on the Syria-Turkey border, where Turkey is patrolling and essentially blocking people in Syria.
Amnesty International and other independent organisations documented repeatedly cases where refugees were being pushed back or being shot at the border. Those who manage to cross the border will add to a number of refugees that Turkey already cannot cope with.
EU countries cannot credibly on the one hand decry the horrors of the crimes of Aleppo and on the other erect barriers that prevent the victims of those crimes, men women and children, from their right to international protection.
At a bare minimum additional resettlement places should be offered and all returns of refugees back to Turkey halted.
EU implicating itself
The EU and member states are lining up a number of rights violating states for similar type agreements. There is an inherent risk in such an endeavour.
Take the case of Sudan, where according to Sudanese media the Sudanese government have tasked the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) notorious for serious human rights abuses, with the implementation of aspects of migration control linked to the Khartoum process (EU-Horn of Africa process on migration).
While the EU may not fund Sudan’s security forces directly, the EU cannot evade the fact that action by Sudan to curb irregular migration carries an extremely high risk of rights violations being perpetrated against migrants and refugees.
Any partnership on migration control would thus provide funding and legitimacy to a context where serious abuses towards migrants and refugees are almost inevitable.
Sudan is not the only country where such concerns would lie.
This year a joint EU-Nigeria statement on justice issues acknowledged serious human rights violations by Nigerian security forces. A recent European Parliament resolution pointed to other concerns in Nigeria including torture.
For many years the EU has been investing in justice reform in the country. Now even having gone on public record on the challenges faced, the EU stands ready to enlist Nigeria as another gate-keeper.
Tasking a country with migration control that does not have an effective asylum system but does have one of the highest levels of internally displaced people (over 2 million) and a dubious record on rights violations risk implicating the EU and its member states as complicit in a range of serious and ongoing human rights violations.
Prioritising migration cooperation over longer-term objectives such as respect for human rights risks aggravating poverty, conflict and other things that cause people to leave their homes, and in a world where even a bloc as wealthy as the EU undermines migrant and refugee rights, we will see more conflict, more instability and more people on the move.
Some of the EU’s top politicians claim that “resources for returns” is about preventing people from making dangerous journeys and breaking smuggling networks. In reality it’s the lack of safe regular channels that drives people to take such dangerous routes in the first place.
If the true objective were a humanitarian one, resettlement, humanitarian visas, legal migration and access to asylum at the EU’s land borders would not only be much more effective and humane, but frankly a more responsible and strategic manner to do so.
Iverna McGowan is Amnesty International EU director