Just before last European Council, which took place in Brussels these last days of June, a great number of NGOs expressed its dissent against the Commission proposal on migration. According to these human rights, humanitarian, medical, migration and development agencies, “the European Union, a project built on the rubble of devastating war, is about to embark on a dark chapter of its history” shifting towards a foreign policy that aims at curbing migration instead of finding concrete solutions. In this way, the group of NGOs argued, the EU and its Member States risk to undermine their credibility and authority in the protection of human rights. “This New Partnership agreement risks cementing a shift in foreign policy that serves one single objective, to curb migration, at the expense of European (…) leverage in defence of fundamental values and human rights”. For this reason, they addressed European Heads of State and Government to reject the Commission proposal that “would cement this approach, making deterrence and return of people the main objective of the EU’s relationship with third countries”.
On Monday 27th June, a group of 110 NGOs published a joint statement addressed to EU leaders strongly condemning new EU policies to contain migration. The point of concern is the Communication adopted by the European Commission on 7th June, which aims at establishing a new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration. The European Commission solicits a new approach whose main object is to “leverage existing EU and Member States’ external cooperation instruments and tools in order to stem migration in Europe”. In other words, the proposal is intended to use aid, trade and other funds to encourage countries to reduce the number of migrants reaching EU boarders.
During last EU Summit (28th -29th June), the Heads of State and Government discussed this plan. The latter takes inspiration from the EU-Turkey deal which, as it has been reported, has left thousands of people abandoned in Greece, in degrading and inhumane conditions. The most vulnerable, including children and women, are paying the price of this agreement, closed in detention centres or forced to sleep in police cells with no access to minimum standards of living.
In this context, the coalition of 110 organisations wants to express its concern about the new plan adopted by the Commission. In their opinion, “Europe risks torpedoing human rights in its foreign policy and, undermining the right to asylum internationally”, as no safeguards of human rights, rule of law standards and protection mechanisms are provided by the Partnership Framework to regulate EU relationship with third countries. Thus, according to the organizations’ coalition, there is a high risk of breaching international law, according to which pushbacks to countries where people’s rights are not safeguarded are illegal.
“Responsibility and liability for human rights violations do not end at Europe’s borders” and deterrence strategies which want to stop migration are proving to be ineffective. “This approach will not only fail to ‘break the business-model’ of smugglers but increase human suffering as people are forced into taking more dangerous routes” to gain Europe. Once again, NGOs are disappointed seeing that there is not a real European commitment to open up safe and regular channels to Europe. According to them, humanitarian admission schemes, educational visas, family reunification, labour mobility and visa liberalization are measures that should be at the top of the European agenda to effectively help those in need of international protections and other migrants.
Moreover, the NGOs’ coalition is worried about the financing of the proposed Partnership Framework. In fact, the proposal provided for a wholesale re-orientation of Europe’s development aid towards stopping migration. “This is an unacceptable contradiction to the EU commitment to use development cooperation with the aim to eradicate poverty, as enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty”, the statement underlines. EU funding should adhere to established principles; aid should provide benefit for people in need and should not be utilised as a means for controlling migration flows.
‘Migration management’ agreements with third countries where human rights are not respected will not provide a solution, stresses the statement. On the contrary, it will be counter-productive in the long term, leading to a vicious circle where the undermined human rights around the globe and the perpetuation of the cycle of abuse and repression will actually reinforce the causes that make people flee, consequently amplifying migration flows.
“If the EU wants to call for more global solidarity, it needs to set the right example”, and the proposed Partnership Framework is not that. According to the ONGs’ coalition, European countries should develop a sustainable rights-based strategy to manage migration in the long term, taking in consideration the complex and multi-faceted reality, being evidence and needs-based, and ensuring that the benefits of migration are maximised and the risks mitigated.
In particular, as “key implementing partners of development programmes in third countries”, the coalition of 110 human rights, humanitarian, medical, migration and development agencies asks European leaders to:
- Reject the Commission Communication, establishing the new Partnership Framework with third countries and develop a more sustainable strategy for migration management;
- Facilitate safe mobility, encouraging the creation of safe passages to Europe meeting the needs of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as the needs and obligations of Members States;
- Exclude any migration conditionality in the allocation of development aid to third countries, with development aid used only to fight poverty and inequality;
- Stop any readmission or removals of people by the EU to a third country that does not respect, or risks violating, fundamental rights or rule of law, while granting access to protection and justice to all people in migration procedures;
- Ensure transparency in the implementation of any instrument used to manage migration and accountability for human rights violations from EU migration policies;
- Commit to a foreign policy and action focused on the prevention and solution of crises, as the Communication introduced the need to address root causes of displacement in the long term without including engagement to prevent and manage crises.
Thus, a concrete solution to manage the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is needed and the proposition made by the European Commission appears insufficient to the eyes of the civil society. Anyway, NGOs are not the only bodies that raised this kind of concern with regard to the current situation in Europe. In fact, last week, during the summer session in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed a sever call to the European Union and its Member States concerning its ‘unfair’ handling of the migration crisis.
The statutory organ of the Council of Europe, an international organisation dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law and which oversees the European Court of Human Rights, put at the top of its summer agenda the migration issue. In particular, during this session, the report ‘Refugees in Danger in Greece’ was presented by the Dutch Socialist, Tineke Strick, underling the fact that refugees are denied “their fundamental human dignity”. In this context, the PACE called on the EU to act without any further delay, being prepared for the “possibility of the current approach failing” and planning in advance “alternative solutions to prevent the lack of preparation and reactiveness that has been so blatant in managing the crisis so far”.
Despite the strong request for a new policy towards migration, European Council conclusions seem to indicate a desire to continue to follow the old road of migration control. In fact, on Tuesday 28th June, the European Council welcomed the results achieved with the EU-Turkey Agreement to stop migratory flows in the Aegean Sea.
With regard to the European Commission proposal, the conclusions stated that an effective Partnership Framework of cooperation with individual countries of origin or transit is necessary. It constitutes the main way to deliver rapid results in preventing illegal migration and returning irregular migrants. “Building on the Commission communication, the EU will put into place and swiftly implement this Framework based on effective incentives and adequate conditionality, starting with a limited number of priority countries of origin and transit”. In particular, the Heads of State and Government convened on some common objectives:
- To pursue specific and measurable results in terms of fast and operational returns of irregular migrants;
- To create and apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development and trade;
- To mobilise elements falling within Member States’ competence and to seek synergies with Member States in relations with the specific countries.
Moreover, the High Representative, as Vice-President of the Commission, has been given the role of leading the implementation of this new approach and ensuring close and effective coordination between the EU institutions, services and the Member States. The Council and the Commission will regularly monitor the process, assess its results and report to the European Council. However, these partnerships would be based on conditionality in funding, as the budgets paid would be related to the efforts made by the third country to keep its population inside its territory.
It seems that the conclusions point to the opposite direction of the call made by the 110 NGOs. Will this lead to a new battle to fight? We still do not have an answer. However, what is true is that the European Union has to change course and set out a new strategy, where for the first time human rights will be put in first place. Only in this way a new chapter in the European history will be open and like in Plato’s myth, Europe will be able to break free from the shadow of the cave and see the shining light.
For further information:
- Joint NGO statement ahead of the European Council of 28-29 June 2016. NGOs strongly condemn new EU policies to contain migration: http://www.ccme.be/fileadmin/filer/ccme/20_Areas_of_Work/01_Refugee_Protection/2016-06-28-Final_joint_NGO_statement_with_signatories_124.pdf
- ECRE, Reject dangerous migration response plan, more than 100 NGOs tell EU leaders: http://www.ecre.org/reject-dangerous-migration-response-plan-more-than-100-ngos-tell-eu-leaders/
- Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council and the European Investment Bank on establishing a new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/proposal-implementation-package/docs/20160607/communication_external_aspects_eam_towards_new_migration_ompact_en.pdf
- PACE, the refugee crisis in the eastern Mediterranean must be fully accepted as a European and global problem: http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6230&lang=2&cat=8
- EUROPEAN COUNCIL CONCLUSION 28 June 2016: http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-26-2016-INIT/en/pdf