Immigration crisis at its very worst: EU to outsource rescue business to North Africa?

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, and Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, gave a joint press conference on the launch of a consultation on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). (EC Audiovisual Services, 04/03/2015)

Migration was just one topic of their agenda! Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, and Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, gave a joint press conference on the launch of a consultation on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Five areas where both sides shared common interests had been identified: trade and economic development; connectivity; security; governance; migration and mobility.(EC Audiovisual Services, 04/03/2015)

The freshly released statistics on immigration, which were published by Eurostat last Friday, show that 2014 has been a negative record year for the European Union. Last year, 626,000 people applied for asylum to the EU, with the number of Syrian asylum applicants alone rising to 122,800 from 50,000 in 2013. What those statistics are saying is simple and it doesn’t apply to Syria solely: 2015 is likely to be even more difficult, and current international crisis is bound to make make immigration one of EU’s biggest problems.

Additional actions to come

With summer being around the corner, a record number of refugees are expected to arrive in Europe by sea this year, especially traveling from Libya to Italy, and the EU is currently seeking for some additional, prompt measures to face what is indeed a humanitarian crisis. Immigration has been broadly discussed amongst European interior ministers last week and the first draft proposals are already circulating in Brussels.

Rescue patrols outsourced

The Guardian revealed a few days ago that the EU is allegedly considering plans to outsource its patrols of the Mediterranean to countries such as Egypt and Tunisia in order to try to reduce the high numbers of illegal travellers to the Southern European shores. Under the proposals, which was opened “confidentially” by the Italian government, the EU would strike deals with North African countries to fund and train their navies in search-and-rescue missions for the tens of thousands of desperate citizens being trafficked from Libya to Italy. Under this new deal, once rescued, the migrants would be taken to the ports of the country or sent back to their countries of origin.

A deterrent effect

“This would produce a real deterrent effect, so that fewer and fewer migrants would be ready to put their life at risk to reach the European coasts”, said the Italian document, as reported by The Guardian. Interior ministers have also been discussing plans to establish refugee camps in North Africa and the Middle East, the so-called “reception centres”, which would be financed by Europe to try to hold potential immigrants back and most of all keep them away from the hands of traffickers. The purpose of these new reception centres would be basically establishing European asylum processing offices outside of the bloc’s territory to stop automatic claims of right to remain.

Who agrees?

The proposals have not received everyone’s favour though. For instance the British government is reportedly in strong opposition to an asylum office outside the EU because it would then require an agreed EU system for dividing refugee numbers between all 28 member states. On the other hand countries like Austria would support the new plan, believing that a centrally organised EU system outside the European boarders would cut the overall number of refugees arriving to the Old Continent.

A way to forget?

The proposals, which The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, would have to be submitted to the European Parliament, and then be discussed broadly. Some already report whispers of discomfort regarding the proposed measures, not only because some EU countries are not keen to “Europeanise” migration policies, but also because many humanitarian operators see plans to delegate rescue missions to North African countries as a way for the EU to “wash its hands” off the problem.

Italy against critics

Italy rejects those critics saying that new strong measures are needed, as Southern European countries cannot face the emergency on their own, and that the 28-nation bloc has failed to devote more attention and resources to the growing immigration crisis in the past. Italy, being the main arrival point for asylum seekers and immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, has reportedly saved more than 100,000 lives with its “Mare Nostrum” search-and-rescue mission on around 170,000 people who entered the EU through the Italian Peninsula last year, while more than 3,000 sadly have perished.

The “Belpaese” has then discontinued Mare Nostrum mission in favour of EU’s much smaller “Triton”, which was launched in November last year. Not without a reason many criticised Triton since the beginning for its smaller scale and poor effort. Triton, whose monthly budget is 2.9 million euros, is basically a border control mission and cannot be seen at all as a real replacement of Mare Nostrum, which has been costing Italy alone 9+ million euros a month.

Death toll rising

Being the measures proposed by the Italian government cynic or not, it is not possible to ignore that concrete and most of all coral measures are needed as soon as possible. The situation has been worsening in the last few months after Mare Nostrum was discontinued indeed and obviously International crises and wars are playing a dramatic role. “We’ve already recorded 600 deaths on the Mediterranean this year, compared to 100 this time last year”, International Organization for Migration spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva last Friday. Unfortunately, during the first two months of this year, arrivals were up 43 percent versus the same period of 2014.

Concrete actions

European Council president Donald Tusk is expected to travel to North Africa before the end of March with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini. “Events in the southern Mediterranean are dangerous for Europe,” he said last week, also adding that continuing talks with the southern neighbours of the EU, in order to stabilise the whole region, would be “vital”. The European Commission has said it will present a “migration agenda” in May, and the hope is that prompt actions will follow as well.

All in all, obviously it is always easier to put the blame on others. Shouldering the responsibility of illegal EU immigration is a pain and everybody admits that. But at the same time EU is not allowed to throw the ball at the “North Aftican” court! The reason is first because immigration is a European issue and secondly it is a grand global humanitarian matter. And the EU absolutely needs to show its power and sensitivity to the latter.

You cannot leave the fates of thousands of people relying just on developing countries that face greater issues than you. Even if that would save costs of the EU budget or responsibly from Mrs Mogherini’s shoulders. More so, why a sound, effective and, why not, costly EU immigration measure cannot be included in Mr Juncker’s 500 billion euro policy for growth? Even indirectly tackling the matter that leads to severe humanitarian crisis is bound to bring growth to the EU.

Most importantly, it would at least bring growth to our minds and souls as united Europeans.

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