EU: Process Immigrants Outside Europe
“Pockets are full and hands are dirty with blood in Rome and Brussels. Stop the departures, stop the deaths, stop the invasion.” — Matteo Salvini (pictured)
THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION is planning to establish immigrant-processing centres outside the EU for the first time, in a radical policy departure aimed at stemming the movement of hundreds of thousands of people across the Mediterranean.
Struggling to draft coherent immigration strategies at a time when the issue has become one of the most toxic in the politics of many EU countries, the European commission announced it was fast-tracking a policy paper on migration.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner in charge of home affairs including migration policy, said Brussels wanted to use EU offices and embassies in third “countries of origin” to process applications for asylum and refugee status before the migrants reach Europe. The aim would be to reduce the numbers of migrants illegally landing on EU shores.
The new policy is strongly supported by Italy, which is on the front line of what has become one of the world’s most perilous migration routes, the Mediterranean. Of the 270,000 migrants who arrived illegally in the EU last year – 1.5 times more than the previous year – 220,000 came via the Maghreb and across the Mediterranean, according to Frontex, the EU’s external borders agency.
More than 3,500 drowned attempting the crossing. Another 1,000 arrived in Sicily this week after being rescued, including 10 who drowned…
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, blamed the Italian government for the arrival of 1,000 in Sicily this week, accusing it of corruption and being in cahoots with the traffickers dispatching migrants from Libya.
“Another 10 deaths and 900 illegal immigrants ready to land,” Salvini said. “Pockets are full and hands are dirty with blood in Rome and Brussels. Stop the departures, stop the deaths, stop the invasion.” He said the Italian authorities were making things worse by encouraging human traffickers.
The same argument is made by the British government, which refuses to take part in Mediterranean search-and-rescue missions on the grounds that the operations are a “pull factor”, encouraging migrants to risk their lives at sea in the hope that they will be saved if in trouble.
The commission policy paper, expected in May, will argue that the third-country processing centres are but one of a gamut of proposals aimed at reducing illegal immigration and creating legal channels for migrants.
Britain flatly rejects that argument, with the government declaring that it is against creating more “legal paths”. The government views this as “inconceivable in the current climate” and the home secretary, Theresa May, has told EU interior ministers that “the idea of making it easier for legal routes to stop illegal routes is completely the wrong way”.
Denmark, the country with the tightest immigration regime in the EU, would also oppose the commission plans, and last week Viktor Orbán, the nationalist prime minister of Hungary, said multiculturalism in the EU was a “delusion”.
“The Hungarian man is, by nature, politically incorrect. That is, he has not lost his common sense,” Orban said. “He does not want to see throngs of people pouring into his country from other cultures who are incapable of adapting and are a threat to public safety, to his job and to his livelihood.”
Since the beginning of the year at least 20,000 migrants have left Kosovo in the Balkans and gone to Germany, mainly crossing from Serbia into Hungary and into the EU. Orban said the Kosovo influx risked turning Hungary into “a big refugee camp”. Last month, 1,400 Kosovars were arriving in Germany daily.
Under EU rules, refugee and asylum applications need to be registered in the country where a migrant enters the EU, but Berlin has been refusing to send the Kosovars back to Hungary because the reception conditions are said to be so wretched.
While migration professionals say that EU processing centres abroad could only be used as a complementary instrument in dealing with refugee flows and not as an alternative to existing procedures within the EU, the proposal raises big issues about capacity and expertise. EU offices abroad do not have the staff to cope with large numbers of applicants, nor does the commission have a large cadre of immigration officers and asylum specialists.
It is not clear whether a refugee would still be able to lodge an application in Europe if he or she has already had a request rejected in a third country.
For the system to work and to decide where successful applicants are going, there would need to be a new, agreed system of burden-sharing or a “distribution key” for taking in migrants in the 28 member states. Experts being consulted on the commission proposals say there is discreet discussion of a distribution key, but there is high scepticism about whether agreement will be reached.
The EU would also need to strike bilateral agreements with the governments of countries hosting the new application centres. These countries could become magnets for regional migrant flows with the refugees reluctant to return to their native countries after having an EU application rejected.
“You would need Faustian bargains with third countries. It is unlikely, say, that Egypt would play,” said Collett. “There would need to be an enormous amount in it for them.”
The attempted shakeup of migration policy was triggered in the first place by the Lampedusa tragedy 18 months ago, when 366 people drowned off the coast of Italy’s southernmost island.
The response in Brussels was to declare that EU frontier search-and-rescue patrols would be introduced, spanning the Mediterranean from Lebanon to Gibraltar. In fact, what happened was that the Italians ditched their relatively successful Mare Nostrum patrols, arguing they were being left to foot the bill for the rest of Europe. This was replaced by an EU operation one-third the size called Triton, mandated to patrol no further than 30 miles from Italy’s coast.
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Source: The Guardian