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Looking the other way will not make the migrants disappear

 

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One year after the tragedy at Lampedusa, Pandeia remembers what led to it, and runs a week of articles dedicated to refugees. Our opening article takes a deeper look at the EU’s refugee policies.

THE SINKING OF a migrant boat off the coast of Lampedusa in October 2013 was the most deadly shipwreck, but wasn’t the first nor the last to occur in the Mediterranean Sea. The tragedy sent a strong signal to the EU that it was time to rethink its immigration policy. Yet, a year since the tragedy, a new report from Amnesty International suggests that not enough has been done to prevent new deaths at sea.

Immigration policies are one of the most divisive issues in the EU. Partially due to nationalistic sentiments, most governments are reluctant to negotiate policies allowing a higher number of migrants to cross the borders into their countries, despite the increasing influx of immigrants due to conflicts and famines in the Middle East and Africa.

Struggle within the EU

The EU commissioner for interior affairs Cecilia Malmström called for an EU rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea a week after the Lampedusa tragedy. The plan would have involved the EU’s border agency Frontex in an operation covering the Mediterranean shores in an effort to track, identify and, if necessary, rescue migrant boats. As The Guardian wrote at the time, Italy, one of the main recipients of migrant boats, repeatedly called for more EU help to control the migration influx. Still, Malmström’s call failed to receive much support from the 28 Member States. While the Italian interior minister reminded that those are not just Italy’s, but EU’s borders, too, the German interior minister instead claimed that other EU countries are doing their part by hosting a great number of asylum seekers. He also warned that most migrants are seeking better economic conditions, rather than escaping adversarial political conditions at home.

Italy and Germany’s positions are emblematic of the arguments dividing the Member States: the countries receiving migrants on their shores ask for increased support in patrolling the sea, while the countries hosting most asylum-seekers claim they are playing their part already.

In the past year, more than 130,000 refugees and migrants irregularly crossed Europe’s southern borders by sea. Nearly all of them have been rescued by the Italian Navy, writes Amnesty International. In ‘receiving countries’, like Italy, many migrants that are detained, waiting to be identified and for their their claims to be addressed. During this process they have to live in inadequate centres which cannot offer them decent conditions.

This did not seem to concern Germany’s interior minister, whose attempt at differentiating between ‘economic’ migrants and political refugees suggested that the EU is unable (or unwilling) to accommodate migrants looking for better living conditions. His argument also disregarded the difficulties in distinguishing between economic and political adversities in countries affected by wars and famine, and even then, it does not propose solutions to control the inevitable migratory movements.

This tension plays against the background of the Dublin Regulation, now at its third update, which criminalises those who provide help to struggling migrants, and places the responsibility of refugee claims on the country where the migrant is first identified. This effectively fuels illegal immigration and human trafficking within the EU as migrants seek to reach countries more “asylum-friendly” than the one where they arrive. A group of Italian filmmakers captured the absurdity in this legislation in a documentary called “On the Bride’s Side” in which they staged a wedding convoy travelling from Italy to Sweden to allow five people fleeing from the Syrian conflict to ask for asylum there.

A solution to immigration issues won’t be easy to find. Member States agreeing to prioritise the dignity of migrants’ lives in their policy-making, as expected by an institution winning the Nobel Peace Prize, would undoubtedly be a good first step in that direction.

By Sofia Lotto Persio.

Photo: Noborder Network

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