EU/Migration : the answer is neither militarization nor outsourcing

Paris, Brussels. FIDH condemns the latest conclusions of the European Council that once again reflect the obstinacy of the European Union in preferring the security approach to the detriment of human rights. The EU must stop focusing on enhancing EU external border protection and on shifting the responsibility for controlling migration outside its borders. Instead, the EU should concentrate on saving lives, establishing legal and safe channels for migrants and on enhancing its capacity to unconditionally accept migrants.

Enhancing EU external border protection, reducing the number of illegal arrivals from Turkey, ‘hotspots’ intended to ‘relocate’ migrants, and speeding up the discussions on the establishment of a European Border and Coast guard: such are the unequivocal aims of the European Council of 18th February. But at what cost ? No mention is ever made of protecting migrants’ lives nor of upholding their rights.

These new conclusions come at a time of a increased strengthening of the role, the independence and the budget of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU, Frontex, whilst its activities continue to lack transparency and there is an accountability gap as it is extremely difficult to hold Frontex to account for the actions it coordinates. Currently, it is not possible to challenge the measures Frontex takes before an independent body.

« We are appalled by the obstinacy of European states in frantically pursuing border security at all costs instead of concentrating on the humanitarian side of the crisis.»

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

Increased surveillance of the area will only push migrants to take other more dangerous routes and lead to more violations and deaths.

« Obsessing over border security and militarizing the Aegean sea is not the answer; it lies in far reaching changes to European migration policy centred on saving lives and respecting human rights.»

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

On 11th February, NATO decided to dispatch naval and air forces to conduct surveillance in the Aegean sea and to share information on vessel movements in Turkish and Greek territorial waters to Frontex. FIDH and other human rights organisations have repeatedly reported numerous violations of human rights, and, in particular, collective expulsions carried out by the Greek coastguards without any assessment of each migrant’s individual situation and needs for protection. Frontex has neither investigated nor followed up allegations of violations allegedly perpetrated during operations it coordinates, nor has it suspended said operations, owing to grave and persistent violations of human rights, as its rules permit. These practices violate international and European law and, in particular, the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in various international human rights law instruments that prohibit States from refouling individuals to a place where they would be in danger of being subjected to serious violations of their rights.

This decision is even more troubling since on 5th February the Greek minister of defense announced that he deemed Turkey to be a ‘safe third country’. A qualification that allows boats carrying migrants to be turned back into Turkish waters without assessment of their individual situation. Greece is coming under strong pressure, as it is accused of not having effective controls in place at its borders and as there is a threat of temporary suspension of the Schengen area. The country has justified this operation by the need to stem the flow of migrants into her territory. Greece claims that this solution will protect the lives of people who attempt the crossing in flimsy vessels. But, to qualify Turkey as a ‘safe country’ only to legitimize sending back migrants and asylum seekers places them in an increasingly dangerous situation given the many ongoing serious breaches of human rights in that country. The very concept of ‘safe country’ does not make sense in international law, for protection must always be based on the examination of the specific situation of individual asylum seekers. FIDH is therefore alarmed about EU discussions to follow the Greek example and to allow all Member States to include Turkey on the list of so called ‘safe’ countries.

FIDH is strongly concerned about the EU pressing on with its race to outsource migration control and its cooperation with countries, which cannot provide adequate human rights safeguards. A very clear example is the talks underway between the EU and Turkey, which conditions European aid to refugees in Turkey on the strengthening of migration controls, despite serious human rights violations and the lack of adequate asylum system in the country.

At the same time, the relocation scheme of 160,000 refugees, endorsed by the Council in September 2015, has not been implemented. The EU and its Member States are still evading their responsibilities towards thousands of individuals who are fleeing war and persecution and seeking the protection to which they are entitled under international law.

« For how long and to what extent do the European Union and its Member States think they can get away with evading their responsibilities ? The EU must immediately put an end to this outrageous outsourcing policy. Engaging in blackmail by conditioning political and financial gains on the signing of readmission agreements with countries where human rights are persistently violated is not the answer. This sort of wrong-headedness and cynicism puts lives in danger. On the contrary, the EU needs to commit and implement more consistent resettlement commitments and welcome refugees in conditions that are respectful of their dignity.»

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH Vice-President
Read more