Migration and Struggle in Greece

The EU’s dubious refugee deal

Posted by clandestina on 23 October 2010

In August, Muammar Gaddafi said the EU should pay Libya at least €5bn a year to stop irregular African immigration and avoid a “black Europe”. This month, Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs, and Stefan Füle, European commissioner for neighbourhood policy, met with Libyan authorities to close a deal on migration and asylum. According to the European Commission, the EU’s financial support to Libya will amount to a total of €50m over the next 3 years.

For the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, which brings together over 60 refugee assistance organisations working throughout Europe, the negotiations on migration between the EU and the dictatorship in Libya are one of the most pressing challenges to refugee protection in Europe.

It is difficult to understand why the EU trusts Gaddafi’s regime to stop migration to Europe and to decide on the fate of refugees who will find it now even harder to reach safety. Do we honestly think that refugees are safe in Libya – or are we so afraid of the numbers of refugees trying to reach our shores that we are ready to abandon our human rights standards?

Last year around 250,000 people applied for asylum in the 27 EU member states – about the same as the number of Somali refugees living in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya; about half the number of border guards working in Europe.

Libya is not party to the 1951 UN refugee convention and does not have an asylum procedure or a system for refugee protection. People seeking protection are often detained, sometimes for long periods, in deplorable conditions. Migrants risk being mistreated and dumped in the desert. In June this year, Libya ordered the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to close its offices in the country, another illustration of Libya’s particular understanding of refugee protection and the unreliable nature of the regime under Gaddafi.

EU representatives have committed to assist Tripoli in reinforcing its capacity to prevent migrants from entering Libya through its southern borders and in developing its patrolling capacities in its territorial waters and on the high seas. The agreement also covers the EU’s assistance to Libya in screening migrants in order to identify those in need of international protection.

By setting up EU-sponsored asylum processing centres in Libya, EU states would evade their obligations to protect refugees and shift the responsibility to a country with an appalling human rights record. How would the EU ensure that such centres in Libya comply with EU standards on international protection or even basic human rights obligations?

Lastly, the European Commission has committed to assist Tripoli by resettling “some” of the recognised refugees in Libya to EU member states. The EU should clarify how it intends to protect individuals recognised as in need of protection in order to avoid massive long-term warehousing of refugees. For example, in Turkey, 10,000 refugees recognised by UNHCR remain there without being able to benefit from the protection they need and awaiting resettlement. Last year, EU countries resettled less than 7,000 refugees worldwide, a tiny number compared to the 800,000 people in need of resettlement.

The debate about outsourcing the processing of asylum claims to third countries is not new. Similar proposals have been considered and rejected in the past because they were incompatible with human rights law. When seeking support for his programme in 2004, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso unambiguously stated before the members of the European parliament: “I assure you that I stand against the setting up of camps outside the union”. Now, in his second term in office, such proposals are still regressive, untenable and unlawful.

Bjarte Vandvik

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