Saturday, 4 December 2010

The continuing injustice of Europe's migration policies

Around 50 refugees from Afghanistan have set up camp next to the Propylaia Acropolis in the centre of Athens. Whilst the Greek state is refusing to grant them asylum, they are also unable to move on to any other country because of the restrictions of the Dublin Convention.

Human Rights Watch explains the situation in full;
At the Tampere European Council in 1999, the EU committed itself to establishing a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) that would harmonize refugee standards and asylum procedures throughout the EU. Nearly 10 years later, despite multiple EC asylum directives, the reality is that wide disparities exist throughout the EU in the treatment of asylum seekers. Far from a harmonized system, the EU is faced with a situation where Sweden would have a 91 percent approval rate for Iraqi refugees in the same year (2006) that Greece had an Iraqi asylum approval rate of zero. Clearly the EU asylum system is not harmonized. Nor is the refugee burden being shared equitably when those same two countries-Sweden and Greece-host three-fifths of all Iraqi asylum seekers in the EU.

Ostensibly to prevent "asylum shopping" and "refugees in orbit," the Dublin II regulation sets out which member state is responsible for examining an asylum claim. It normally will be the country of first arrival and applies to all EU member states, as well as Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.

Based on the assumption that all participating states have the same standards and procedures for determining refugee status, the Dublin system highlights how much lower Greece's asylum standards and procedures are in comparison to other European states. Among its flaws, the Dublin system ignores the legitimate interest asylum seekers have in choosing where to apply for asylum and unfairly allocates the burden of processing asylum claims to the states on the EU's external frontiers.

Because of the dual failure of the Dublin system, two European countries, Sweden (because of its relative generosity) and Greece (because of its geographical location), have shouldered a disproportionate share of the Iraqi refugee burden-62 percent of all asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2007, to be exact. Left nearly alone to bear the burden, both Sweden and Greece have reacted in ways that are as unfortunate as they are predictable.

Sweden's reaction was to become much less willing to recognize Iraqis as refugees and less generous in offering asylum. It went from granting 91 percent of Iraqi refugee claims in 2006 to 25 percent in the first trimester of 2008. In the first half of 2008, only about 4,000 Iraqis lodged asylum claims in Sweden, less than half the number who applied during the first six months of the previous year.

Greece has taken the approach of using noxious detention conditions, procedural obstacles to lodging claims, and illegal summary removals and abusive police and Coast Guard conduct to deter asylum seekers from entering Greece or, if they do succeed in entering, to dissuade them from staying or from seeking asylum there.
As a result of which;
An asylum seeker in Greece has almost no chance of being granted asylum; Greece's asylum approval rate at the first instance is almost nonexistent. In 2007, out of 25,111 asylum claims, Greece granted refugee status to eight persons after the first interview, an approval rate of 0.04 percent. Appeals of denied cases do not fare much better; the asylum appeals stage has an approval rate of 2 percent.

While various factors contribute to this outcome, including a lack of legal representation, the inappropriate use of accelerated procedures, and poor interpreters, many of the problems are attributable to an institutional culture that takes a presumptively negative view of asylum seekers.

This is because the asylum procedure in Greece is from beginning to end a police matter. Police interviewers do not have sufficient specialized training or independence to conduct proper interviews. When Human Rights Watch asked an Iraqi asylum seeker living in Greece for eight years whether he had taken steps to try to expedite his appeal, he said, "Your question presumes there is a system of law. There is no law. Everything is in the hands of the police."

There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation about asylum in Greece. Many people who appear to have strong claims for protection as refugees do not seek asylum. Some decline to seek asylum in Greece because they believe by applying they will spend longer in detention; others think they will not be able to bring family members to join them if they apply; others think a lawyer is needed and they cannot afford one; and many have their heart set on seeking asylum in another European country. Others are classified as asylum seekers who had no intention of applying for asylum. It is indicative of the opaqueness of the system and the superficiality of the initial interviews that a number of red-card holders interviewed by Human Rights Watch had no idea that they were asylum seekers.
It is in response to these conditions that the protest camp has been set up. According to Demotix, on the 15th of December there will be a General strike with the support of the immigrant workers and on 15th of January there will be a new demonstration in support of all refugees.

However, the forces weighted against refugees is not entirely legal, and it is not exclusive to Greece.

Since May last year, the Italian government has been working with the Libyan government as part of a "Push back" policy in order to keep migrants from reaching Europe.

According to Human Rights Watch;
On May 6, 2009, for the first time in the post-World War II era, a European state ordered its coast guard and naval vessels to interdict and forcibly return boat migrants on the high seas without doing any screening whatsoever to determine whether any passengers needed protection or were particularly vulnerable. The interdicting state was Italy; the receiving state was Libya. Italian coast guard and finance guard patrol boats towed migrant boats from international waters without even a cursory screening to see whether some might be refugees or whether others might be sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, or victims of trafficking or other forms of violence against women. The Italians disembarked the exhausted passengers on a dock in Tripoli where the Libyan authorities immediately apprehended and detained them.
And the treatment of refugees in Libya is hardly up to scratch even by European standards. Reports are that Gaddfi's regime has been using converted container lorries to transport migrants to Libya's desert borders. There, they are dumped without food, water or means of transport, and many have already died in these appalling conditions.

Now, buoyed by Italy's support, including the loan of gunboats, he is demanding more financial support for his efforts to stop "Christian, white" Europe from becoming "black."

Whether he means what he is saying, or is playing up to the prevalent nationalist attitudes amongst some countries' leaders, this is abhorrent. It is a clear demonstration of the level that migration policy in Europe has fallen to. Whatever the sophistry may be of the "debate" on this subject, this is the point that the reality has led us to.


Those who suffer and even die as a result of such policies deserve far more support than they currently receive. It cannot be left just to people in Greece and organisations like Human Rights Watch to spread the word. This kind of action needs to be challenged whenever it rears its head.