The unrest in North Africa has put the EU asylum and border policy on the agenda. The commission issued a statement encouraging member states to show solidarity.
By Mette Hagedorn
The European leaders gathered on Friday the 11 of March to discuss the situation in Libya and to reach agreement of possible action against Ghadaffi`s reign of terror on the Libyan civilians and rebel forces. The final statement also declared that European Union would show solidarity towards member states mostly affected by the increased flow of immigrant and refugees. Member States were also encouraged to support Frontex, the border agency that deals with border security in the EU, with technical support and crew.
The situation in North Africa has put a strain on the asylum systems in Europe. Since the upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt started in January more than 6000 refugees has arrived on the Italian Island of Lambedusa. The Italian government warned: as many as 300.000 refugees might arrive to the Italian coast. This number might be exaggerated, but there are signs that the refugee flow from Libya might be much bigger than from Tunisia as the unrest has spread to Libya the possibility of rise in economic migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe is increasing, according to PHD student Martin Lemberg Pedersen.
The EU issued a statement in which they urged member states to speed up the process of implementing the asylum package. This will allow states to show solidarity by sharing the affair of the asylum seeker system.
Most of the current migration from Tunisia to Lampedusa appears to be for economic reasons, said Ms Malmström. However, developments will be watched very closely, she added, stressing that
“Frontex and Member States may not push away people in need of international protection”.
In order to keep refugees and immigrants out of the European Union, the Commission and Frontex travelled to Libya in 2004 and 2007 and made deals with the Gaddafis regime to combat, what they call, illegal migration. Frontex has since then reported that the number of immigrants to Malta and the Italian island of Lanbedusa has fallen. In 2010 the agency reported that the number of immigrants in the central Mediterranean had fallen from 16.000 to 3000 in September 2008.
According to MEP, Søren Søndergaard, who is for the Greens, this is in a bid of the long term policy of the EU to keep immigrants out of the European Union.
“There was a silent agreement in the commission that Ghaddaffi was to hold refugees and imimigrants out of Europe. He met with Prodi and Barosso and the understanding was that Ghaddaffi was to be the gatekeeper of Europe.” He says.
The principle of free movement of Labor in the EU means that once people are allowed in, it is hard to get them out. The Metock verdict of 25 of June 2008 states that you can be unified with your spouse after only a few weeks stay in any European country. That is why the EU works on keeping immigrants out of the Union.
New approach is needed
The border agency Frontex that is currently operating in Italy has been critised by NGO`s to breach international obligations for the right to seek asylum and to generally be a short sighted solution that will make the politicians seem to take actions, thus seem more appealing to voters.
According to Amnesty International Executive Officer Anneliese Baldaccini the EU should change the approach towards border control and stop collaborating with states that does not comply with human rights. According to Anneliese Baldaccini, Amnesty International supports the humanitarian aid to neighboring countries to help set up and run temporary refugee camps. But she does not understand why the EU does not open allow more refugees to come in the Europe if they have family members in member states countries.
She also says that there are no economic migrations to the EU, but that we are talking about people trying to escape unrest and violence in the native countries.
Danish MEP and part of the Alde group in parliament, Jens Rohde, is in favor of member state helping member countries that are under a lot of sudden pressure.
“Imagine the number of asylum applicants suddenly rose dramatically within a year in Denmark, and then we would need help, if we do not, the countries affected cannot see any advantage of being part of the Dublin Convention and they might leave” he says.
According to Jens Rohde we must help countries like Italy and Greece in an emergency like the ongoing in North Africa. Asylum seekers need their case processed quickly and that Denmark should participate
“We ought to help processing the asylum cases, but we need to do it in the countries affected. We should send personnel to help, and the asylum seekers that arrive in Denmark we should deal with ourselves,” he says.
He does not support the view to abolish the Dublin Convention and impose refugee quota amongst member states
The Dublin convention
According to the Dublin Convention, every asylum seeker that applies for asylum should have their procedure looked through. Prior to the Dublin convention, people could be sent back and forth, because member states thought other countries were obliged to treat the asylum cases. The Dublin convention was also designed to avoid so called asylum shopping, the situation were asylum seekers could apply for asylum in all member states, and thus overload the system. One of the disadvantage of the Dublin Convention is that you deprive the applicant to make his own choice of country to seek asylum to.
“It can be obvious to seek asylum in a country where the applicant has family, job possibilities, knows the language or other affiliations. Also in relation to the subsequent integration process.” Says Thomas Gammeltoft Hansen.
According to Thomas Gammeltoft Hansen the foundation for the Dublin convention is that every member state has the possibility to treat asylum seekers, which is not the case at the moment. It is very hard for Greece to cope with the increasing numbers of asylum seekers and immigrants. It is also becoming increasingly more difficult for Italy to comply with the minimum’s rules, according to Thomas Gammeltoft Hansen.