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16th Nov 2019

EUobserved

EU flirts with hypocrisy in criticising Trump's refugee ban

The EU rightly spoke out against Donald Trump's entry ban on asylum seekers from Syria. But its own track record leaves much to be desired.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (30 January) that the EU would continue to host refugees.

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  • The EU talks endlessly about solidarity. But in reality, solidarity does not exist except among the nameless volunteers on the ground. (Photo: MSF)

"It's our identity: we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built," she said in a tweet.

Her comments appeared the same day a young man from Pakistan suffocated to death in a tent at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He was trying to keep warm. It was the third death at the camp in a week.

The misery of people is well documented in so-called hotspots set up by the EU in both Italy and in Greece. The conditions are so bad that many, including Syrian refugees, have volunteered to return to Turkey from the Greek islands.

The EU blames the Greek government. The Greek government blames EU states for not relocating asylum seekers and for sealing off the Western Balkan route.

When Hungary erected a wall on its border with Serbia, the European Commission said it was a national issue. When a Syrian refugee protested against the barrier, Hungarian authorities gave him a 10-year prison sentence.

The EU talks endlessly about solidarity. But in reality, solidarity does not exist except among the nameless volunteers on the ground. And some of those are risking jail for their efforts. One Danish woman went on trial for people-smuggling after giving a family of refugees a ride to Copenhagen. A similar case is unfolding in Sweden.

Only around 10,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU states. The two-year scheme, which ends in September, had called for 160,000.

Many more have been kicked out. Almost 11,000 people were sent home last year, a four-fold increase compared with 2015 when 3,565 migrants were returned in 66 operations.

Both EU commission and member states now appear to oppose issuing humanitarian visas for people in need.

Germany may stand out as an exception after welcoming some 1 million in 2015.

Disgrace

But the fact that the world's richest nations are unwilling to properly care for the thousands stranded in Greece and on its islands is a disgrace. The task has largely been delegated to volunteers, NGOs and international aid organisations.

With populist parties gaining ground in the Netherlands, France and Germany, the anti-immigrant discourse has also gone mainstream. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte last week told Muslims to "act normal, or go away".

France's conservative presidential contender Francois Fillon has promised to erect national borders and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere wants zones outside Europe to screen applicants before arrival.

De Maiziere's proposal is gaining traction.

The plan is to offshore the problem to war-torn Libya. The job is already under way in a handful of other African states and Afghanistan. This is the EU's invisible wall.

Last week, the EU commission announced a €200 million migrant deal with Libya and other north African states. It includes more training for the Libyan coast guard and navy and more surveillance in a country whose detention centres, according to leaked memos from the German government, are death traps.

Catherine Woollard, secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), has shed doubt on the plan.

"By supporting the Libyan coastguard, Europe wants to dispense with its obligation to provide protection. But what 'protection' will be provided when they are returned to Libyan soil - and the migrant centres it hosts?" she said.

Malta, the EU rotating presidency, says a migrant deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU could be a blueprint for Libya. The EU Turkey deal slowed the flow of people leaving for Greece.

But Libya has no functioning government and is largely run by warlords, despite the UN having the recognised GNA government in Tripoli.

Around 5,000 people died trying to reach the EU last year.

Most drowned while crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. Many more have been rescued and brought to Italy. But once onshore, another struggle begins.

Italian police

Last year, Amnesty International documented cases of torture by the Italian police in their effort to meet EU commission demands to fingerprint every arriving asylum seeker.

On the Italian border with Austria, Musa Diakite, a 35-year old from Mali, broke down and cried in despair when he told this website his dignity was in shreds.

Diakite's application for asylum was rejected. Unable to return home and without any rights, he wandered about aimlessly. "I don't want to sleep in the streets, I can't do it," he said.

He is one of many in a Europe that has turned its back on people in need of help.

Disclaimer

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

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