The UNHCR recently released figures of the number of people forcibly displaced in the world. The overall figure topped 70.8 million, from which 25.9 million are refugees who have had to cross international borders to look for better livelihoods. Most of these migrants come from countries that have continuously persecuted their lives to a point where fleeing is the only option left. Despite around 80% of refugees being hosted in countries neighbouring their own, the desired end destination can often be more developed countries for the hope of increased opportunities and security. The increase in migrant flows, especially due to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan has put immense pressure on not only neighbouring states but also many countries in Europe. However, the lack of a proper database system in Europe has made it difficult for states to determine the cases of thousands of asylum seekers.
The purpose of what is known as the ‘Dublin Regulation’ is to establish which member state of the EU is responsible for the examination of asylum applications from asylum seekers. In practical terms, the EU state in which the asylum seeker first applies is responsible for the application procedure. The regulation also allows the state to consider other criteria: from family considerations to recent possessions of visas in a member state to whether the applicant has entered the EU irregularly or regularly. However, this process accounts for various flaws in the system. Firstly, most asylum seekers often flee in tough situations and do not have the time to collect all their relevant documentation and hence, under the regulation, their applications would be rejected indefinitely due to the lack of documentation. Secondly, most asylum seekers have to take dangerous pathways to get to an EU state and sometimes these include being smuggled across the Mediterranean in rubber rafts. The irregularity in arrival to the EU more often than not prolongs application processes for making an asylum claim. But, most importantly, these continuous irregular arrivals in large numbers have put immense pressure on states that are close to the Mediterranean like Greece, Italy and Spain. This leads to the encampment of migrants in Greece while the other two countries place them in asylum centres in which they could spend years in overcrowded conditions that put their lives at various risks.
In an attempt to control these influxes, the EU has inherited a Border Externalization policy. These policies are created to externalize their borders, making it hard for forcibly displaced people to get to Europe in the first place. This involves agreements with Europe’s neighbouring countries to accept migrants whose claims have been rejected, to providing advisory on how they should adopt similar measures of border control. In other words, these agreements have turned Europe’s neighbours into becoming Europe’s policemen. And because they are so far away from Europe’s shores, the impacts are completely almost invisible to citizens of the EU. The United States has also been actively “de-bordering” their borders since 9/11 by thickening of border defences through the creation of buffer zones to the notion of “smart borders” that are able to filter people and goods rather than block their flow. They are also increasing the use of military technology for border enforcement, as well as layered border inspection/policing approaches that move customs and immigration away from the actual territorial border.
Despite their similarities, I would argue that the EU’s externalization policy is far more instrumental in the way that it acts. There are far more actors and mechanisms that play a role in implementing EU’s externalization policy. The EU and individual member states like Italy, Germany and Spain are now providing millions of euros for various projects to stop the migration of certain people taking place on or across European borders. Deals with countries like Turkey, Libya and Morocco have enabled the EU to train their police and border guards, establish extensive biometric systems, and donations of air surveillance equipment like drones and helicopters that make monitoring more effective.
What makes these deals problematic are that many of the countries receiving support are authoritarian and not stable themselves and the funds they receive often go to state security organs most responsible for suppression and abuse of human rights. The EU in all its policies puts human rights, democracy and rule of law at the core of its practices but there seems to be no basis for this when it comes to embracing dictatorial regimes as long as they serve them by keeping “irregular” migrants from reaching European shores. These policies therefore have sweeping consequences for displaced people especially when their “illegal” status already makes them vulnerable to human rights abuses. Many of them, especially those that are intercepted at sea are taken back to countries like Libya or Morocco where they end up in exploitative working conditions, detention centres and/or get deported to countries where they fled from. Women and children face high risks of gender-based violence, sexual assault and exploitation.
The growth in tracking and management of EU’s externalization policies have turned the Mediterranean into Europe’s graveyard. There have been thousands of documented deaths in this area while thousands more go unnoticed. This narrow self-defeating concept of security and migration control has increased the risks that forcibly displaced people face at various levels. More importantly, it does not address the root causes of migration like conflict, violence, economic deficiencies, and does not hold the states accountable for not being able to manage these problems. Instead, by enhancing military and security forces both internally and externally, it is likely to aggravate suppression, limit democratic accountability and increase the conflicts that will lead to more people being forcibly displaced. It is time to change the course. Instead of externalizing borders and walls we should be externalizing real unity and respect for the people who have already lost so much on their way.
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