EPSU warns against plans to keep asylum-seekers out of Europe

EPSU Migration Briefing cover

EPSU press release 29 August 2018

Ahead of the European Council meeting on 4 September, EPSU’s latest briefing here warns against further attempts to outsource asylum processing to third countries, most likely Northern Africa.

The Council’s working party on Integration, Migration and Expulsion, is expected to discuss measures to return migrants including the setting up of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It will most likely also discuss the European Commission’s so-called non-papers on “controlled centres” and “disembarkation arrangements” for rescued migrant persons at sea. Both non-papers were published on 24 July amid Italy’s refusals over several days to allow the disembarkation of rescued migrants, in violation of article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights, amongst others.

For EPSU, the European Public Service Union, the Commission’s non-papers freeze the fundamental right to seek international protection in the EU. They trivialise the inhumane practice of detaining migrants, adults and children, who risk their lives to reach Europe in the hope of finding protection or simply a better life, pushing them back to countries where there is no guarantee of safety. This approach is not in line with the UNHCR’s call for a collaborative, regional and predictable approach to Mediterranean Sea crossings for search and rescue, and disembarkation.

Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary, said: “The controlled centres and disembarkation arrangements presented in the Commission’s non-papers are not only morally and legally unacceptable, but also unfeasible. The Commission contemplates a common asylum policy with no asylum-seekers in the EU by outsourcing EU responsibility to North African countries, whose asylum administrations, according to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, aren’t fit for the job.”

While the Commission’s non-papers lack a clear status and details, they risk fuelling further the very hostile political environment against migrants in the EU. 

The controlled centres are similar to the EU-backed hotspots in Italy, or in Greece where human rights violations have been reported. The hotspots were designed in conjunction with the EU pushback deals with Turkey and Libya. To embark on similar measures without a public evaluation of this approach risks repeating the same breaches of human rights.

Mr Goudriaan adds: “The EU needs a migration and asylum policy which respects the highest standards in accordance with European and international law. This can only be achieved through investment in public services. This is needed to allow for adequate individual processing of complex asylum claims by sufficient and well-trained staff, and the provision of decent reception conditions upon arrival including accommodation and healthcare. This is key to the long-term integration of migrants and asylum-seekers.”

EPSU calls upon the Council and the Commission to stop contemplating unworkable and possibly illegal proposals and focus instead on the solidarity elements of the asylum review package. This includes the revision of the Dublin rules, as well as legal migration that should be the first priority, as supported by the European Parliament.

Note to editors:

The increasingly restrictive approach to migration and asylum policy at EU level is a self-defeating policy that fails to offer solutions to the global migration phenomenon.  

First, it results in deaths. The UNHCR recently highlighted here that despite the lower numbers crossing to Europe in the first half of 2018 - 5 times lower than in 2016 - there are proportionately more men, women and children dying at sea. In June, 1 person died for every 7 who crossed the Mediterranean, compared to 1 in 38 in the first half of 2017.

Second, despite EU leaders’ emphasis on fighting “illegal” migration, the lack of legal and safe channels of migration is creating undocumented migrants who are made much more vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Third, such an approach fails to respond to trade union concerns in EU Mediterranean countries, who report severe understaffing problems across all public services dealing with migration and asylum, from search and rescue operations, to asylum administrations, temporary migrants’ centres including minors’ centres, police and healthcare services. The lack of administrative cooperation further exacerbates this problem.

It is not the high numbers of newcomers in Europe that is the problem but the lack of resources in public services that deal with migration and asylum claims and integration. Endemic understaffing creates a false sense of crisis, and gives the impression that the only solution is to cut down on the numbers of newcomers. Yet the solution lies with improving and strengthening the administrative capacity of those services, not with putting up barriers preventing asylum-seekers from reaching Europe. The policy of outsourcing asylum responsibilities to third countries with no guarantee of safety or whose asylum administrations are in a much worse state than those in the EU Mediterranean area is unacceptable.

Fourth, the Commission’s emphasis on fast-track procedures to distinguish the rescued persons who are entitled to seek international protection from those who are not and must be pushed-back misses entirely the complexity of asylum claim processing. Unduly long processing of asylum claims, that last for two years in some EU countries, is not acceptable.  But equally unacceptable is the belief that processing asylum claims can be done in a few weeks.  Anyone who works in an asylum service knows that speed must not be the sole criterion. Fairness, knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder, and of ever changing asylum and migration rules and in-depth individual assessments all require time but are essential to ensure compliance with the highest standards.

Fifth, it is urgent to carry out a public evaluation of the EU-backed hotspot approach in consultation with public service employees, their trade union representatives as well as migrants/asylum-seekers themselves. EPSU underlines that the EU agencies EASO and Frontex involved in the hotspots in Greece are subject to much criticism for failing to comply with international asylum rules. EASO is currently under the EU Ombudsman’s scrutiny. A public evaluation of the role and mandate of EU agencies must first be carried out before any further deployment either in or outside the EU.

EPSU’s briefings are here 

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