In the absence of a real refugee and migration crisis on the external borders of Europe this year, arrivals down 95% since 2015 and more than 40% since same period last year, the prioritisation of the issue in European capitals and the tension it has produced can be explained only in terms of politics. The abused crisis narrative has become a battleground between neoliberal pro-EU politicians on the one side and right wing extremists and neo-fascists on the other. This isn’t a battle, as it is publicly spelled out, for an agreement on the characteristics of a European asylum system. It is actually a ruthless fight for ideology and power narrated with migration/refugee policy terms.
It’s a fight that will only result in further victimising refugees, something pictured better in the two leaked documents of forthcoming meetings of EU leaders, the mini summit called by Junker this Sunday 24th and the next European Council next Thursday 28th. There are the internal and external dimensions of proposed actions in the documents and in both cases the radical agenda promoted is once more full of ideas that will spread toxicity.
Regarding externalisation, “the European Council supports the development of the concept of regional disembarkation platforms in close cooperation with UNHCR and IOM” says in the leaked doc of Council conclusions of 28th. The same concept is listed at the draft of next Sunday’s mini summit again mentioning UNHCR as a partner.
Will UNHCR be lured to co-operate with EU to develop a concept intending to deconstruct the frame set by the Geneva Convention. It could actually do given EU is once more playing IOM against UNHCR regarding who will be its major interlocutor on refugee policy. It worked in the past and it is going to be hard to avoid it this time too, without taking on the EU. This more than ever could actually be an existential moment for the UN refugee agency.
Especially given the EU is determined to accentuate reprehensible policies involving UNHCR, even if the prerequisite is to ignore logic and reality. Despite all evidence of EU’s complicity with criminal networks involved both in Libya’s border control and smuggling networks, the plan is to curb arrivals in central Mediterranean by taking on “smugglers operating out of Libya”. And for this “The EU will continue to stand by Italy in this respect, and will step up its support for the Libyan Coastguard”.
For more effective externalisation the Council also promotes the creation of dedicated budget lines in all relative financial instruments directly connected to this policy, “external components of the internal, border, asylum and migration funds should include a dedicated external migration management window”.
And still it gets worst looking at the internal dimension.
The mini summit draft document mentions an autonomous border control apparatus by completing an institutional transformation of Frontex and EASO to a “genuine border police” and a “genuine EU asylum authority” respectively. This logically needs to be completed by a robust mandate to guarantee their authority above national authorities at the external borders. A forthcoming regulation for Frontex, the second in two years, according to the draft will complement the creation of a standing 10,000 strong EU force and the boost of Frontex budget to billions of euros annually. The adaptation of the new EASO regulation undergoing negotiations could also facilitate this purpose. Basic objective is the new apparatus will succeed where everyone failed up to today, returns.
Punitive measures to criminalise secondary movements are also introduced with an idea lurking in the mini summit draft for Europeanising geographical restriction by introducing “sanctionable obligations to remain in competent states” and making available “access to social assistance only in the responsible MS” according to Dublin regulation.
With EU shifting to the implementation of a reactionary far right agenda on refugee and migration policy the only open question is how much the humanitarian world will follow it. This is a moment of responsibility for International Organizations (UNHCR, IOM) and INGOs. Their choice not only matters morally but it is their last chance to opt out of complicity to political abuse of refugees by extremist agendas. It is a rate moment, the kind of which will shape their future.