Monday, July 10, 2017

Amnesty International on the European refugee crisis

Amnesty International has just issued a new report on the European refugee crisis
Perfect Storm. The Failure of European Policies in the Central Mediterranean 07/06/2017. That link is to the summary. The full report can be downloaded from there, as well.

The summary is brief:

A humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in the central Mediterranean as thousands of people die at sea in the desperate attempt to reach safety or a better life in Europe. In the first half of 2017 73,000 refugees and migrants reached Italy by sea: 14% more than in the same period the previous year. Around 2000 have lost their lives, bringing the mortality rate this year to 2.7%. This represents a three-fold increase over the second half of 2015, when EU-led search and rescue efforts were at their height. The immediate cause for the rising death toll is that the conditions in which refugees and migrants have been made to cross the sea have deteriorated. Partly in response to EU-led efforts to disrupt their activities, smugglers in Libya have been loading more people onto boats of a lesser quality, mostly inflatable rubber ones, with insufficient fuel, no lifejackets or other safety features, and often with no means to call for help, such as a satellite phone. These boats have virtually no chance of reaching European coasts by themselves and they are in need of rescue from the moment they depart. [my emphasis]
The main report includes this helpful glossary (bold in original):

A refugee is a person who has fled from their own country because they have a well-founded fear of persecution and their government cannot or will not protect them. Asylum procedures are designed to determine whether someone meets the legal definition of a refugee. When a country recognizes someone as a refugee, it gives them international protection as a substitute for the protection of their country of origin.

An asylum-seeker is someone who has left their country seeking protection but has yet to be recognized as a refugee. During the time that their asylum claim is being examined, the asylum-seeker must not be forced to return to their country of origin. Under international law, being a refugee is a fact-based status, and arises before the official, legal grant of asylum. This report therefore uses the term refugee to refer to those who have fled persecution or conflict, regardless of whether they have been officially recognized as refugees.

A migrant is a person who moves from one country to another to live and usually to work, either temporarily or permanently, or to be reunited with family members. Regular migrants are foreign nationals who, under domestic law, are entitled to stay in the country. Irregular migrants are foreign nationals whose migration status does not comply with the requirements of domestic immigration legislation and rules. They are also called “undocumented migrants”. The term “irregular” refers only to a person’s entry or stay.
EU politicians tend to talk about "migrants," which is a more neutral term. "Refugee" has more of an implication of someone in need of immediate help.

They charge that "European leaders have ceased to view search and rescue as a priority and have failed to respond to the changing conditions and increased dangers refugees and migrants are now exposed to." In particular, forcing boats to return to the Libyan coasts, from where many of the refugees depart, means that they will "face horrific conditions in detention, torture and rape." They argue that this current "reckless European strategy is ... failing to deliver the desired outcome of stopping departures and preventing further loss of life."

They have this recommendation, which includes the goal of better conditions for irregular migrants in Libya, which would require effective European aid for Libyan refugee support. That would of course require the cooperation of the Libyan government.

But they also make it clear, though, that minimizing the loss of life and protecting the well-being of migrants/refugees already outside of Libyan territorial waters means bringing them safely to Europe and finding a way to process them and settle them, or repatriate them, in a way that does not condemn them to torture, rape and other kinds of abuse. This is a policy that is not compatible with a policy based on "keep the g*******d foreigners out." The report recommends:

In the absence of sufficient safe and legal routes for refugees and migrants to access European territory, and for so long as dangerous departures from Libya continue, European leaders must commit to deploying dedicated resources for search and rescue near Libyan territorial waters and disembark those rescued at a place of safety. In short, a multi-country humanitarian operation under the operational coordination of the Italian authorities, similar to what was in place in 2015 is urgently needed.
Cooperation with the Libyan coastguard must be driven exclusively by search and rescue concerns and made conditional on the Libyan authorities agreeing to the following measures:

  • The Libyan coastguard should not carry out search and rescue activities outside Libyan waters;
  • The Libyan coastguard should allow search and rescue operations by civilian vessels, including boats operated by NGOs to take place unhindered in Libyan territorial waters;
  • The Libyan coastguard should not be allowed to claim and exercise on scene command during a search and rescue operation and should transfer any rescued person onto EU or foreign vessels participating in the operation to be disembarked in a place of safety; and
  • The Libyan coastguard should accept the immediate establishment of a mechanism to ensure solid monitoring of their conduct and operations at sea, and of an accountability process in case of breaches of international law and standards.

More broadly, European leaders should make cooperation on migration with Libyan authorities conditional on verifiable progress towards ending automatic detention of irregular migrants in Libya, the establishment of an asylum system and the granting of unhindered access to detained refugees and migrants for international agencies.
So far, the three most destructive failings of the EU have been: handling the 2008 financial crisis and its consequences, especially in Greece; their extend-and-pretend approach to the refugee crisis that has been an obvious and serious problem since the NATO overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011; and the series of events that led to Brexit. The refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis that the EU can deal with. As the EU website currently says, "508 million inhabitants — the world’s third largest population after China and India." If the 100,000 or so refugees that have reportedly come to Europe over the overall Mediterranean route in the first six months of June is too overwhelming a problem for the Union, then they really need to readjust the whole "European project."

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