The current Dublin regulation has proved both insufficient in providing standards of humane treatment to migrants, and unfair with regard to the southern and border countries – Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Hungary – to which is left the responsibility to address migration flows from North Africa and the Middle-East. The current EU position on migration has also contributed to the spread of Euroscepticism and far-right political movements. The latter have used economic, cultural and religious reasons to oppose the EU’s rescue and asylum system, eventually opposing the migratory flow altogether, while the eurosceptics – a broader category including not only far-right movements – have criticized several aspects of the Dublin regulation framework. To date, a great emphasis has been put on security concerns, to the detriment of human rights. States have made greater efforts in border control and in identifying illegal migrants than in the reception framework of the asylum process.
A better and more complete European policy on migration is needed: Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights until 2018, stressed the need for a “European Mare Nostrum” to build a shared responsibility approach between European countries towards the rescue, reception, and protection of refugees and asylum seekers. The EU Member States, by building a system in which they implement principles of solidarity and fair sharing of asylum seekers, would increase the European capacity to provide international protection and would also help to reduce the burden on border countries, while guaranteeing the compliance of the Member States with their obligations regarding human rights.
However, the Dublin regulation should be reformed to ensure a responsible legislative framework in the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), where transfer quotas and fair sharing of responsibilities between the EU Member States are the fundamental elements. In the current regulation, the first EU country in which an asylum seeker enters is responsible for examining her/his particular request, but a growing number of Member States is promoting a different strategy to contrast migration, which is grounded on the outsourcing of migrants to non-EU countries, such as Libya and Turkey. The funds are transferred to these countries in exchange for preventing the arrival of migrants into the EU, and for the creation of external hotspots. Outsourcing measures have been portrayed as a valid way to ensure the security of the EU Member States and the protection of migrants by putting an end to the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean and dropping migration flows.
Nevertheless, the relocation strategy has been deeply criticized by several NGOs and international observers because it has been proved that it increases the dependence of migrants on smugglers in order to cross the sea and also forces them to remain in unsafe countries, like the aforementioned Libya and Turkey, where numerous abuses and persecutions against migrants have been reported by institutional and non-governmental organizations. In this way, the system of relocation also muddles human rights safeguard activities and the fulfillment of international protection. The right to leave a country remains a precondition for the enjoyment of many other human rights, such as the right to international protection against punishment, torture, unjust detention and degrading treatment.
This policy often leads to the detriment of migrants’ human rights in the name of security: migrants are forced to stay and seek protection in countries from which they are trying to flee because of the low standards of respect of fundamental rights and low-quality asylum systems, where widespread abusive behavior of border guards, officials and authorities has been documented. The agreement stipulated by the European Union with Turkey in March 2016, the “The EU-Turkey statement”, is paradigmatic of this disposition in which the concerns about internal security are considered of primary importance, and the protection of human rights becomes a secondary aspect. In order for this agreement to be possible, it was first of all necessary that the governments of the European Union declared Turkey a safe third country or a safe first country of asylum, in order to comply with the principle of non- refoulement.
This allowed the Council of the European Union to state that with a 3 plus 3 billion euro agreement: “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion. All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulment. It will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order”. However, numerous NGOs, reporters, and European institutes have documented the real conditions of rejected and blocked asylum seekers in Turkey.
Human Rights Watch reports “violent push-backs, including live-fire shootings by Turkish authorities at the effectively closed Syrian border, and summary deportations of Syrians and Afghans” and the impossibility for migrants to access to basic services in overcrowded “hotspots” and reception centers. There are also worrying trends about the reopening of more dangerous routes than the Eastern Mediterranean route, such as the crossing of the river Evros at the land border between Greece and Turkey that caused at least 40 recorded deaths among asylum seekers by mid-October 2018, including children. And despite the “EU-Turkey Statement” affirms that “Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighboring states as well as the EU to this effect” while operating in compliance with migrants’ fundamental rights, data collected by media reporters and international organizations have shown that concerns about internal security have surpassed those for the protection of individuals stranded at the doors of the European Union.
As claimed by Human Rights Watch, regional and bilateral agreements such as the EU-Turkey Statement, should only be possible after a “prior independent verification that the country is capable of ensuring fair treatment for all migrants, including procedural guarantees around detention and unsafe returns, and of access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure with a chance to be recognized as a refugee”. The safe third country policy should be reconsidered and reformed considering often changing circumstances, and should rely on authoritative sources of information and continuous monitoring of the countries’ behavior concerning the respect of human rights, the use of force and the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Another provision proposed by different international observers is that only countries that have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention should ultimately be considered safe third countries.
Be as it may, other proposals for a reform of the Dublin Regulation that comply with the human rights standards of asylum seekers, focusing on solidarity and fair transfer rates among the Member States, must be approved by the European Parliament: a reform proposal to the Treaty of Dublin should pay particular attention to the practices of relocation of migrants who are able to demonstrate that they are living or currently have family members in a particular EU Member State, in order to facilitate family reunions and, secondly, to avoid unnecessary adaptation problems to individuals.
Those who do not have links with a particular country should be able to choose between the Member States that received the least number of applicants. The relocation quotas should also be based on the GDP and population size (50% each) of each member state, so that “the largest and wealthier countries will have a greater share than the smaller and less rich countries”. In addition, a permanent distribution system that would enter into force with the reform of the Dublin Regulation should not be based on a triggering mechanism. Instead, it should be regularly active and manage the relocation of migrants and asylum seekers, regardless of their number.
Without a common approach, and a clear and regulated policy that requires each Member State to make an effort proportionate to its capacity to collaborate in the reception and integration of migratory flows, it will not be possible to resolve the distortions of the European asylum system, which weigh disproportionately on some countries and push them towards outsourcing strategies, and at the same time increases anti-immigration feelings in Europe. Those same distortions are also those that allow NGOs boats to be blocked, migrants to be left drowning in the sea or to remain abandoned in inhumane prisons in unsafe countries that do not have the capacity, or the will, to protect their lives. The European Parliament in late October 2019 rejected a plan to increase funding and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The majority of votes against came from the EPP, the European Parliament political group to which Jean-Claude Juncker and the new president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen belong. The road seems thus still uphill when it comes to the construction of a European framework for a fair progress in the reception, protection, and integration of migrants.
Muižnieks, Nils. “Crisis in the Mediterranean: Europe Must Change Course.” openDemocracy, April 22, 2015. https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/nils-muižnieks/crisis-in-mediterranean-europe-must-change-course.
Karakoulaki, Marianna. “EU-Turkey Deal Two Years after: the Burden on Refugees in Greece ⁄ Open Migration.” Open Migration, June 28, 2018. https://openmigration.org/en/analyses/eu-turkey-deal-the-burden-on-refugees-in-greece/.
Deutsche Welle. “Closed Borders Boost People Smuggling across Balkans: DW: 22.11.2017.” DW.COM. Accessed December 15, 2019. https://www.dw.com/en/closed-borders-boost-people-smuggling-across-balkans/a-41467977.
Medecins Sans Frontieres. “Confronting the Mental Health Emergency on Samos and Lesvos Why the Containment of Asylum Seekers on the Greek Islands Must End.” https://reliefweb.int/. ReliefWeb, October 2017. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2017_10_mental_health_greece_report_final_low.pdf.