The new European Agenda on Migration

Another aspect that we dealt with during the first event of the project Lampedusa Berlin, is the new European Agenda on migration – 2015.

It seemed important to us to understand in what way our political European decision-makers (who, by the way, are our representatives…) are dealing with the problem; this also because the press and the media in our countries have offered – until now – a very superficial kind of information concerning the issue.

What happened is that on May 13th 2015 the European commission has approved the new European Agenda on Migration - 2015.

This agenda of the European Commission is built on four pillars:

- Reducing the incentives to irregular migration, which includes: bolstering the fight against the traffickers, improving the repatriation procedures, partnerships with the countries the migrants come from, etc.;

- A strong politic of asylum,  which proposes: the creation of a single decisional process when it comes to the issue so that all asylum seekers in Europe are treated fairly and equally in all the countries; the introduction of “resolute initiatives to fight the abuses of the asylum system”, etc.

- Saving human lives and making the external frontiers safe, which includes aspects such as: reflecting on the idea of creating a European system of frontier guards; reinforcing the role of Frontex, etc;

- New politics concerning legal migration, which strives for an improvement of the paths and entry procedures for the so-called economic migrants.

Along with these four pillars, the Agenda envisaged a series of Immediate Answer actions, among which:

  • Triplicating the means and capacities of the joined operations Frontex, Triton and Poseidon, in 2015 and 2016.
  • A new method of reception based on ‘crisis spots’ (Hot Spot) in order to better handle the operations of identifications, registration and taking fingerprints of the newly-arrived migrants, and in order to handle the repatriation activities.
  • A program of re-settlement for 50 million euros aiming to transfer 20.000 people in Europe in a secure and legal way.
  • Strengthening cooperation with the transit countries, or the countries where the migrants are from, such as Turkey, Syria and Nigeria, in order to limit the number of migrants.



A large number of the civil organization that operate in the field of migrations are strongly critical on some of these points!
In our journey, we mean to meet the European decision makers for these politics to hear them out as well, but meanwhile we had an occasion to talk in depth about these critical issues, thanks to the contribution of associations that are in first line when it comes to issues concerning migrants and human rights (ASGI, Associazione Diritti e Frontiere, and others...). We will report here, summed up, some of the points that experts and representatives of these association had to discuss:

Re-settlement of asylum seekers

The re-settlement, in the current status of things, would concern about 160.000 refugees, with an increment in comparison to the initial plan of the Commission. What emerges for sure, first of all, is that it’s still a very scarce number if we take into account that more than 1.300.000 people reached Europe in 2015/2016.
Moreover some countries – United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Slovakia – have firmly opposed the quotes system; also Poland and France have joined in this rejection.
Factually, the re-settlements are happening extremely slowly. It seems that the people who have been, in fact, re-settled in 2016 only were 8.162.

Hot spots

The problematic aspects of this procedure, that was named “Hot Spot Model”, are diverse, as a number of organizations – Amnesty International in between them – has denounced.

The first problem is that in these centers It takes place - in practice - an arbitrary distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants: the "Statewatch report" states that in the Italian hot spots the praxis is to recognize as asylum seekers Syrian citizens and people from other specific nations (such as Eritreans, Iraqis and Yemenites), while everyone else is excluded because of prejudice, and they’re quickly classified as ‘economic migrants’, while a large number of these people might reasonably have the requisites to ask for refugee status or international protection.

Another issue that has been noted from different organizations is that fingerprints are taken by force. For example, one of the testimonies collected by Amnesty International Italia, says: "There were six policemen in uniform. They beat me with the ring on my shoulders, on the side and on the little finger of my left hand, which I can not straighten from then on. I fell and kicked me, I do not know how many times, for about 10 minutes. I was afraid". It's June 26, 2016: Adam is 27 and is in a police station after landing at the port of Catania. It comes from Darfur, Sudan: one of the most battered regions in the world and the invisible agony in the eyes of international public opinion. "There was no interpreter, they were just asking for fingerprints. I refused". According to Amnesty, these cases, albeit fortunately minority, are, however, a signal of negative effects of European policies, with their emphasis being on the issue of border protection rather than on solving the migration problem with a focus on human rights.

Migrants in the ‘Limbo’

The slowness of the re-settlement procedures, the absence of regularization mechanisms when it comes to economic migrants and the a fact that there’s a ban on “secondary movements”, meaning that the migrants are forbidden to leave their host countries, are creating a series of heavy consequences
In Greece, more than 50.000 migrants who are mostly Syrians, but also Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistani, have been living for months in camps ran by the the Greek army along with the ACNUR, the ONU agency for the refugees, with people kept in horrendous living conditions and a suspension of one’s existence that forbids any kind of planning for the future.

In Hungary, where a second wall is being built on the Serbia/Croatia border in order to stop the passage of migrants headed to Germany and to Northern Europe, the Parliament approved a law that foresees automatic detention for all the migrants currently on the country’s soil, and their concentration in collection shelters, which are currently being built, named ‘transit areas’.

Another aspect concerns the centers of identification and expulsion. In Europe there are about 200 such centers, which represent in various countries (Italy included) realities where irregular immigrants are detained for long periods of time (officially, that period is a year), in conditions that are detrimental to human dignity and, here as well, in conditions of legal and existential suspension.

The cost of rejections

In the last fifteen years, European countries have spent about 11,3 billion euros to expel irregular immigrants, and 1,6 billion to strengthen the border controls. This has been calculated by journalists from Migrants files, an international collective formed by twenty journalists, statisticians and experts; and, as, the journalists themselves warn, we are talking about an under-estimated data. What is certain is that welcoming migrants instead of rejecting them would cost less.
Or, it is to be assumed that these resources, as well as the enormous costs of Frontex (see below), could have a much more useful function if spending in other ways (international cooperation, solving the causes of migration, humanitarian corridors for refugees, etc.)


Frontex

Although the New Agenda for Migration mentions "saving human lives", in practice this does not happen.The new policy of Frontex doesn’t include anymore rescues at sea outside territorial waters, which was what the operation Mare Nostrum instead envisioned; this brought to a higher number of deaths, since shipwrecks are almost always out of the territorial waters. Such as what happened in the shipwreck of April 18th 2015, which only saw 28 survivors and in between 700 and 900 missing people. This was one of the worst tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea of our times. The European Agenda on migration has not changed this approach.

The motivation behind this choice is not to incentivize arrivals. And so it happens that Europe is watching hundreds of people die without doing anything. This is really absurd, and in complete contradiction with the principles of solidarity underlying the united Europe. Do not encourage to leave, should be done in other ways and above all by improving the living conditions in the countries of departure. Bailouts at sea today are made by NGO ships, which have recently been accused, absurdly, of being in agreement with traffickers.

On 14 September 2016, the creation of a European border and coast guard was approved, which in practice corresponds to the strengthening of Frontex, the European Border Control Agency. The new body, which has been operational since mid-October, does not have its own border guards, but can count on 1,500 agents chosen by national border guards ready to intervene in an emergency in one of the EU countries. But here too, the focus is on the defense of the frontiers, certainly not the relief at sea, which is currently (we are talking about May 2017), is carried out only by NGO vessels, who have recently (and absurdly) been accused of Be in connivance with human trafficking ....
Meanwhile, the EU has supported, with ships and training, the creation of a Libyan coast guard, but its interventions have been widely criticized by ONGs because migrants aren’t only mistreated, but also brought to some of the numerous detention centers in Libya where they’re victims of violence and abuse of power.

In all, according to the report by Mark Akkerman, Border wars report, "Frontex's budget between 2005 and 2016 has risen by 3,688 percent", from € 6.3 million to € 254 million a year. Since 2014, it has almost tripled, ranging from 97 million to 281 million euros expected for 2017. To benefit from these policies are primarily military, technology and security companies.

Border wars shows that the arms industry not only benefited from the militarization of European borders but also pressured and encouraged this approach by lobbying. Akkerman also showed how many businesses that are doing business with Frontex are the ones who sell arms to the Middle East and Africa countries from which migrants try to escape, coming to Europe. Also in this case the question is if this money couldn’t be spent in a more constructive manner.

Agreements with third parties

The agreements with the third-party transit countries, or the countries where the migrants come from such as Libya and Niger, have been widely criticized by several organizations. Indeed, we are talking about countries that do not guarantee at all the respect of human rights. For example, in Libya, the migrants are detained in centers where they are victims of mistreatment, sexual violence and torture.
In return for three billion euros in aid, Ankara has undertaken a commitment with the European Union not to leave the refugees off its coasts and to accept that those arriving in Greece after March 20 were deported back to Turkish territory.
According to many NGOs, these are illegal agreements because they violate the established principles of EU law and international law, particularly the ban on collective expulsion and refoulement to countries where inhuman or degrading treatment may be carried out.

See the trailer of a documentary produced by VICE NEWS regarding the centers in Libya