UNHCR has warned that Europe’s ‘narrow, exclusion-focused [migration] policies’ have clearly failed. It urged the European Union to make certain that upcoming policy discussions undertaken in light of the region’s refugee crisis are grounded firmly on the need to protect the human rights for all migrants.
There is a dangerous logic to European Union policy on immigration, and over the weekend it may have claimed as many as 900 lives. That is far too high a cost.
According to UNHCR, a migration policy that seeks simply to exclude irregular migrants, without taking into account a holistic analysis as to why they are moving, is unlikely to result in better management of migration. Instead, such policies are very likely to come at an unacceptable cost to the rights of migrants, including more deaths, detention and abuse of innocent people.
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It also expressed concerns about the continued security-driven agenda that appears to dominate the EU’s response.
After hundreds of migrants drowned on their way from Libya to Malta when their boat capsized, European officials agreed to rethink their policy on migrants from Africa and the Middle East. They surely recognize that it is neither practical nor defensible to minimize rescue efforts in the Mediterranean as a way to discourage immigration.
UNHCR has observed that Italy and Greece have reduced the use of immigration detention. It said, it is important to guard against a return to a practice which is fraught with human rights concerns centred on the legality and conditions of detention.
UNHCR pointed out that strengthening of border control and surveillance, including building a fence along Greece and the Turkish border, led to scores of desperate refugees and migrants crossing the risky Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands.
The current EU response to migration from Africa and the Middle East consists mostly of a border-patrol program called Operation Triton, which last year replaced a similar Italian program called Mare Nostrum.
The smugglers who operate from Libya often load migrants onto small boats with insufficient fuel and then call for help. This “pull factor,” which the U.K. cited last year as the reason for withdrawing all support for rescue missions in the Mediterranean, is not the cause of illegal migration.
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Still, a quota-based program that allows a defined number of refugees to claim asylum and settle in the EU would help. Given an alternative to throwing themselves on the mercy of people smugglers and the open seas, many refugees would choose to apply from their camps and wait. The U.S. runs such a program for as many as 80,000 migrants annually. At their meeting, EU leaders proposed voluntary resettlement of migrants in need of protection.
But there are no simple or quick answers here. They will have to await a more stable and prosperous neighborhood, from Libya to Syria to Sudan. At the same time, allowing people to die at sea is not an acceptable immigration policy. If the EU can do whatever it takes to help protect shipping from pirates off the coast of Somalia, it can protect human beings from death off the coast of Italy.