Europe Hardens Its Borders and Deepens the Migrant Crisis at Sea

Source: The Nation

A new proposal would do little to alleviate the suffering on Europe’s borders.

Faced with a surge in migration across the Mediterranean Sea, European Union officials apparently think the best way to manage migration is simply to keep migrants from reaching the shore. The EU Commission is currently weighing a plan to reform the union’s border policies by finding more elaborate ways to warehouse, filter, and ultimately push away its unwanted human cargo.

While the plan would do little to stem the social forces that drive people onto smuggling routes from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it would aim to create a number of so-called “controlled centres,” hosted by countries that volunteer to serve as disembarkation points. Processing about 500 people at a time, teams of border agents would screen arrivals for “humanitarian” qualifications, to vet their backgrounds for eligibility for humanitarian protection as refugees, or to brand them mere “economic migrants,” to be forcibly returned. Participating frontline states would gain the EU’s infrastructural support and reimbursement of about 6,000 euros per migrant. But human-rights advocates warn that, like previous policies aimed at “deterrence,” the proposal would simply make the journey more miserable for migrants fleeing crisis in the Global South.

According to Amnesty International researcher Matteo DeBellis, the new approach to “burden sharing” across EU member states just disperses the crisis, and differs little from previous reform efforts. The problem with the current EU system is that, as there is no mandatory, organized distribution plan for migrants once they reach EU territory, migrants face a pinball-like maritime obstacle course, with government and civilian rescue vessels pushing drowning migrants back and forth. The chaos has led to massive human-rights abuses and a total failure to overhaul the so-called “Dublin system,” which compels migrants to seek asylum in the first country in which they step foot. Without fundamentally changing that framework, DeBellis argues, the proposed voluntary scheme of “controlled centers” could lead to “the automatic detention of people for weeks and potentially months.”

The proposed reforms reflect European politics rather than security or humanitarian protection. The main champion is the right-wing government of Italy, which is bridling at its default role as the first port of entry for most migrant vessels.

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