Monday

12th Apr 2021

Opinion

EU needs a moral migration policy

  • (Photo: Peter Biro/IRC)

This week, the European Council will consider the first concrete results from its Partnership Framework policy of strategic cooperation with third countries on migration.

While the stated intention of the policy is welcome, the short-sighted goals currently driving the approach are worrying.

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  • Syrian refugee children in their temporary home in the Lebanese town of Berkayel. This cold, sparsely lit room measures nine by four meters and houses 12 people (Photo: Peter Biro/IRC)

This week the EU has an opportunity to reset the global moral compass on migration, and they must seize this opportunity.

The Partnership Framework policy states that it will address the reasons that people move in a “coordinated, sustainable, jointly responsible and human way”.

Where this entails alleviating poverty and engaging in international efforts to end conflicts, so that people do not need to leave their homes in the first place, this is absolutely right.

However, for all the talk of recognising the root causes of displacement, EU leaders appear only to be interested in quantifiable “results”, in the form of numbers of people prevented from leaving countries of transit and numbers of people sent back from Europe.

This approach risks not only undermining the stated aims of the Partnership Framework policy, but ultimately triggering a global race to the bottom on the rights of people on the move.

Incentivising third countries to prevent people from moving is contrary to the rules governing EU development aid, and highly likely to lead to violations of the fundamental rights of displaced people, which should be at the heart of the approach.

Reducing EU external policy to a narrow agenda of deterrence and containment risks further destabilising countries already experiencing conflict and fragility, undermining the very development efforts which would enhance people’s prospects and reduce the need for them to undertake the risky and dangerous journey to Europe.

Moral leadership

And the less that Europe shows moral leadership on migration, the less likely other countries are to do their bit.

Why should countries like Lebanon continue to provide shelter for the refugees who make up more than 25 percent of its population, when Europe is closing its borders on those in need?

Why should Pakistan think twice about sending people back to Afghanistan, when the EU is so determined to pursue mass returns of Afghans that it intends to build a dedicated terminal in Kabul airport?

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It’s time for a reset, in which the EU works jointly with third countries to support and improve the infrastructure for people forced to flee their homes, and the Partnership Frameworks are an ideal vehicle through which to do this.

They offer the chance to support countries hosting large displaced communities, and jointly to set mutually reinforcing commitments to uphold the rights of these vulnerable people and enhance their prospects.

The International Rescue Committee has published a paper which sets out how this alternative approach should work.

First, the Partnership Frameworks must uphold the absolute rights of displaced people under international law.

The EU has a duty to take responsibility for people in need of international protection, and this cannot and should not be linked to the undesirable objective to stop migration flows.

Second, the compacts must agree measurable, shared outcomes for refugees, returnees, internally displaced people, host and rural communities, prioritising protection, safety, education and the creation of jobs.

Aid needs to be channelled to support third countries in enabling refugees to get access to employment and economic opportunities. Designing actions that both benefit displaced people and their host communities is key.

Third, there must be a transparent and inclusive process. Civil Society organisations, those who work directly with those affected in countries involved in the partnerships, must be included in the development and monitoring of the compacts.

Wealthiest continent

The European Commission and the EU foreign service must be subject to proper scrutiny by the European Parliament.

Last but not least, the Partnership Frameworks must be developed in a spirit of solidarity with other countries who receive a far greater number of refugees and migrants than EU member states.

This means the EU, as the world’s wealthiest continent, committing to and expanding resettlement and other legal routes to Europe.

If the EU fails in this basic duty, it will undermine its considerable leverage to achieve the potential of the migration compacts.

The EU’s mandate is built upon progressive values and obligations set out in its treaties, where poverty alleviation features as the ultimate purpose of development aid.

As signatories to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of refugees, EU countries have a specific obligation to grant international protection to people fleeing persecution or serious harm.

As EU leaders go into the Council meetings this week, they must remember this.

Imogen Sudbery is head of the Brussels office of the International Rescue Committee, a global NGO with its headquarters in New York

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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