EU Member States’ choice to turn back time on asylum leads to more deaths in the Mediterranean

EU Member States’ choice to turn back time on asylum leads to more deaths in the Mediterranean

Mar 10, 2023, 3:17:25 PM UTC
The endless delay and lack of ambition of EU Member States in negotiating a functioning solidarity framework has once again costed lives
Boat ashore

The endless delay and lack of ambition with which EU Member States are negotiating a functioning solidarity framework, as well as the blunt violation of the existing European laws in place have once again cost lives in the Mediterranean. The choice to implement policies that in 2015 already proved to be the cause of the EU’s failing migration system, such as the Dublin Regulation, further contributes to undermining the negotiations for a truly European asylum system, fair, fast and orderly asylum procedures and common solidarity and responsibility.

We will all remember all too well the image of the drowned Syrian boy Alan Kurdi on the Turkish coast in 2015.  Following which Member States vouched “never again”, promising to come up with a well-functioning European system that has solidarity at its heart. 

Unfortunately, this painful reality became clear again. On February 17th, 19 refugees were found dead in a truck at the Bulgarian border. At least 60 refugees drowned in front of the Italian coast on the 26th of February. These are not stand-alone incidents, since there have been several drownings in the past years because of the dangerous routes to Europe. Worrisome however is the response EU Member States have given so far: during the last European Summit, Member States agreed on financing additional barriers and walls on the European borders. The Netherlands and Italy made a deal: Italy would implement the Dublin Regulation and keep refugees in Italy, the Netherlands would not object to punishing rescue workers for rescuing drowning migrants at sea. In the meantime, British Prime Minister Sunak said asylum seekers arriving in Britain on small boats through the English Channel will not be allowed to ask for asylum. After meeting this week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni proposed an EU-Africa deal, modeled after the highly controversial EU-Turkey deal that has further enhanced push backs and human rights violations but did not succeed in cutting back influx long-term. 

The common response among European leaders is thus restrictive measures that will further increase human trafficking and force asylum seekers to opt for even more dangerous routes. In the words of Dutch Parliamentary Member Marieke Koekkoek:

“Walls don’t belong in Europe. Those who build walls will do nothing more than close themselves in, while condemning other people to death by drowning or suffocation” – Marieke Koekkoek

 The co-President of Volt Europa, Francesca Romana D'Antuono, echoed: 

“The lives lost near Crotone are the result of a political choice of the Italian government to turn their back to human rights - and the choice of European institutions to delay the creation of a humane common migration policy” - Francesca Romana D'Antuono

The only real answer lies in structural solutions. As such, we need to ensure that search and rescue efforts are effective, solidarity mechanisms like redistribution are in place, asylum procedures are respected and  legal migration routes with dangerous European entry points are provided. 

In that way, people could opt for safe routes for migration and the human smuggling networks could not exploit the vulnerable people taking up this route. Once arriving to the shores of the Union, asylum-seekers and refugees would have their claims registered and relocated across the EU based on meaningful links, taking into account where their family members live, if they have any diplomas from an EU country, or whether they speak the language. It would thus provide a solution for the failing Dublin system, human trafficking, and people drowning at sea without having to build walls.

However, this would mean that Member States will have to stop trying to introduce policies of the past, like Dublin, and instead make real progress on the European Migration and Asylum Pact, particularly on those policies that focus on solidarity, and redistribution. The outcomes of the last Council meeting on 9 March leave little hope however, as the main progress was made on negotiations for the re-implementation of Dublin. 

We might remind our EU leaders of the words: “Never again”, spoken after the death of Alan Kurdi and hope they would take these words to heart.