Stop European leaders’ war on refugees

Monday, June 25, 2018 - 11:43

by Ana Alcalde (Executive Director, Alianza/ActionAid Spain) and Marco DePonte (Secretary General, ActionAid Italy)

Beatings, enslavement and sex trafficking: it’s recently been revealed that the European Commission is financing horrific abuses through its dirty deal with Libya to pursue and detain migrants. Unbelievably, when they meet this week, European leaders are considering giving the Libyan coast guard even more money to chase down refugees at sea.

Proposals for “regional disembarkation centres” will also be on the agenda for the European Council summit this week: a system for detaining and deporting so-called “economic migrants” before they set foot on European soil, and far from the eyes of European human rights bodies.

In a transparent effort to justify these frightening proposals, the Council is increasingly referring to undocumented asylum seekers as “illegal” - yet it’s European leaders who will be breaking the law if they go ahead with these moves, by violating the human rights treaties Europe has ratified.

The summit takes place as Europe teeters on the brink of a full-scale crackdown on asylum-seekers that threatens to replace fundamental European values with the politics of fear and hate:

  • In recent days, Italy and Malta have turned away two rescue ships full of women, men and children saved from drowning at sea. While Spain eventually accepted the first boat, the second, operated by the German charity Mission Lifeline, remains adrift in international waters.
  • European countries such as Hungary are criminalising simple acts of kindness by their own citizens in aid of migrants and refugees. The #WelcomingEurope campaign seeks to force the European Commission to ban the criminalisation of solidarity.
  • Only days ago, the European Commission launched a multi-billion “peace fund” that will pay for military equipment, including lethal weaponry, in the Sahel region of Africa.

The challenge facing Europe’s leaders during their summit this week is whether they will further escalate the politics of fear and hate - or move forward with sane solutions to share responsibility for asylum seekers among all member states, based on principles of solidarity and equity.

In the wake of World War II, the 1951 Refugee Convention established the right to special protection for those fleeing persecution. EU leaders must uphold this fundamental principle, rather than aiding and abetting the further persecution of refugees.

But today’s world has created new kinds of suffering and exploitation that go well beyond those that were recognised more than 60 years ago, when the Refugee Convention was signed. The failure of Europe and other industrialised countries to curb climate change, for example, leaves millions with no choice but to leave their homes. They, too, are refugees.

ActionAid’s experience in both the home countries and receiving countries of migrants tells us that walls, barbed wires and guns will not stop desperate people from seeking a better future. In their upcoming meetings, European leaders must find solutions based on the legal frameworks and human rights principles to which they are already committed. A fair system for sharing responsibility must be agreed, along with safe ports for asylum-seekers. And rather than paying other countries to detain and forcibly return refugees, EU leaders should increase resources for the real integration of migrants, who have so much to offer our societies.