Thank you very much for an opportunity to to talk to you this evening. It is so great to be back here after eight years.
Let me introduce myself. I think it is the easiest way for me to convey a message that I would like you to leave this room with.
I was born in 1986 in a small town in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina called Doboj. Today, Doboj is in Republika Srpska, one of the two Bosnian-Herzegovinian entities.
I was five years old when the war broke out in former Yugoslavia. I was six when fighting began in Bosnia. Together with my mother and my brother I spent the war as a refugee in Croatia. My father remained in Bosnia and fought in the war.
We were lucky because we all survived. When the war ended in 1995 I was 9. Throughout my primary and secondary school education there was peace in Bosnia. Ther was peace also when I went abroad to study, first in Austria and then in Belgium. There was peace also in 2013 when I returned to Bosnia to live and work there. There is still peace also today in Bosnia.
But I remember very vividely February 1996, when together with my family we went to Doboj for the first time. It was city of horror where Bosniaks and Croats were expelled, all minarets and mosques destroyed and many houses damaged. We did not even dare to say our Muslim names out loud on the streets. For months and years after the war I had nightmares about Doboj.
But since then Bosnia has changed dramatically. The number of foreign soldiers keeping the peace went from 60,000 in 1996 to just less than a thousand today, mostly Austrian soldiers. Since 2006 there is a joint army and conscription has been abolished. I am part of generation of young Bosnians and Herzegovinians that where never forced to use a gun.
But today I stand before you and tell you this story because I am genuinely worried. And I will tell you why.
I do not remember the time before the war but I read a lot about how Doboj turned into a nightmare. I read a lot of Yugoslav intellectuals and politicians talking about borders, injustice and ethnic rights. They were all making a simple but destructive argument:
You are only safe IF your own ethnic group is in control.
You are only safe WHEN and WHERE your own ethnic group is in control.
This idea destroyed Yugoslavia and Doboj. It destroyed families, it has led to mass expulsions and genocide in Srebrenica. It turned borders into frontlines, created new borders drawn in human blood.
But ideas can change. And they did in Bosnia. Doboj is a good example.
Half of the pre-war non-Serb population returned to live there today: almost 20,000 of them. Mosques and minarets had been rebuilt.
The Doboj of my nightmare is today an ordinary city, where Bosniaks and Croats do not fear their Serb mayor. They even vote for him repeatedly. And they all face same challenges: poor health and educational system, too few jobs to compete for.
And this is why I am worried. Today’s Doboj was possible because international community had a clear policy:
NO MORE CHANGES OF BORDERS ALONG ETHNIC LINES.
Serbs should be safe in Central Bosnia, as much as Croats in Banja Luka. Bosniaks in Doboj or Srebrenica. Macedonians should be safe in Tetovo, as much as Bosniaks in Novi Pazar, Albanians in Presevo, or Serbs in Gracanica and Mitrovica.
Some ideas seem innocent at first, but as they grow up they can become monstrous. The idea that you are only safe if, when and where your own ethnic group is in control is such idea.
This is why I plead to Balkan leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel today, not to go down this road, again. I also plead to European leaders, in particular those sitting at this panel and those in audience, to state clearly they would oppose it if the Balkan leaders decided to take that road.
The task for our generation is to turn all Balkan borders into European borders: like those between between Tyrol and South Tyrol. In order to do that we will have to do a lot: build institutions based on rule of law, allow freedom of media and do a lot more. It is time.
Thank you very much.
PS: The video is here: https://www.facebook.com/forumalpbach/videos/574682706268252/
Der Spiegel wrote a very good title story this week (25 August) on the right refugee policy for the EU, which Germany should push for. A coherent plan that could get majority support – and be presented as alternative to Nauru fantasies / push-back proposals of Salvini, Orban and co. The key recommendations in this article:
1. More assistance to countries close to crises hosting many refugees, and to UNHCR.
2. Control external borders to know who enters; identify and register those who do.
3. More resettlement: more ways for refugees and those who are politically persecuted to find their way to Europe legally.
4. Rescues: Europe has a duty to rescue those at risk of drowning. This should not be left to private organisations.
5. European transit centres: there European experts should be able to determine within a few weeks whether somebody needs asylum; those who do not should not remain in Europe.
6. Agreements on return: negotiate new types of agreements with African countries of origin for them to be willing to take back their citizens.
7. Contingents: offer annual legal migration contingents in return, so that countries such as Senegal, Gambia or Nigeria are ready to agree to new return agreements.
8. Those who arrived in Germany before a set date should be able to acquire residence and work permits. Concentrate deportations on those who pose threats or are criminal.
Implementation of a humane policy – start in the Aegean
The challenge is to find the way now to move from ideas to implementation.
One place to start is in the Aegean, right away. The EU- Turkey agreement is based on these very principles – if it would actually be implemented in full:
– EU provides substantial financial help for refugees in Turkey (1)
– It allows for better control at external (Greek-Turkish) border (2)
– (Voluntary) resettlement of refugees from Turkey to EU (3)
– Sharp decline in deaths in Aegean; everyone rescued in Greek waters is brought to Greece. (4)
– KEY CHALLENGE on Aegean islands: quick and fair decisions on who needs international protection in the EU and who can be returned to Turkey (or offered voluntary return to country of origin) (5)
– Return: Turkey agrees to take back those who do not need international protection in EU if they arrived in Greece after 20 March 2016 (6)
– Mobility: Turkey is offered visa liberalisation in return for full cooperation (while meeting mutually agreed key conditions set out in visa roadmap) (7)
– Cut-off date: the EU-Turkey statement has a cut-off date for returns to Turkey – those who arrived after March 2018 (8)
Implementation of a humane policy: a place for rescuers to take people in Europe
At the same time there is an urgency to find a better way to deal with those rescued now in the Central Mediterraean , and to do so quickly. The ESI’s Malta/Rome/Amsterdam/Sanchez Plan for the Mediterranean would achieve this, and also meet all the objectives and respect all the above principles.
(Two recommendations in the Spiegel article concern development policies in Africa and job creation programs in refugee camps: both go beyond issues we developed in our proposals).
In recent weeks, we sent a number of letters to European policy makers with concrete suggestions how Spain, Germany and others might move ahead in addressing the current Mediterranean migration and rescue crisis. Here is a summary of some of the concrete things that we suggested in these letters (and in a few meetings):
There needs to be a strong joint commitment to sea rescues.It is unacceptable to let people drown who might be saved with more effort. In June 2018 – the first month with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini –more people drowned in the central Mediterranean than in any June in the past decade!
While it is crucial to send more rescue boats, this is not in itself enough to reduce deaths. The deadliest six-month period in the Mediterranean was actually the period May-October 2014, when Italy was fully engaged in its ambitious rescue mission (Mare Nostrum): more than 3,000 people died on the way to Italy. (The deadliest full year was 2016, the year when most rescues took place).
Spain, France, Germany and others should provide more rescue boats outside the Libyan territorial waters. The objective must be to ensure that nobody drowns; while arrivals are reduced without push-backs.There are three possible ways to achieve this:
discourage people who have no need of protection from coming, by sending a clear message that those who do not need international protection will be returned to their countries of origin quickly, following a fair but fast asylum procedure.
work with transit states that stop boats leaving (as Spain did with Senegal in 2006 and with Morocco for a longer period; as Italy and the EU have done, much more problematically, with the Libyan coast guard since early 2017; or as the EU and some members have done working with Niger to stop smugglers taking people through the Sahara).
send back people who are rescued to North Africa, or to some “processing platforms”, as Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban and Sebastian Kurz have long advocated as “Australian solution”, modelled on Nauru; an option the last EU council requested should be studied. This is both highly problematic legally and completely impractical. When some European leaders present such platforms as their proposal what they really appear to want is a thin cover for push-backs to Africa.
The first option is by far the best. It represents a real humane alternative to Salvini’s current approach. It combines control and empathy, sea rescues and returns.Can a strategy based on this first option be implemented? Yes, it can.It would require three concrete measures:
1. European RICs – registration and identification centres, what the European Council called “controlled centres” (the term hotspot, discredited by the awful conditions on the Greek island, should be dropped): i.e. humane, decent accommodation centres, set up in European Mediterranean countries of arrival, jointly funded, perhaps even jointly run, as concrete expressions of solidarity. The opposite of the current Greek hotspots in crucial aspects:
Ensuring sufficient space and decent treatment of everyone (modelled on the Dutch Ter Apel asylum centre; or European “Ankerzentren”, as agreed in the German coalition agreement), these should set a model how a coalition of European countries respects human dignity. There should be full transparency.
A time limit: nobody will be kept in a RIC longer then 2 months at most. The goal is to ensure that a first asylum procedure and an appeal are possible within 6 weeks for most cases.
Set up an immediate coordination board of senior officials from reception and asylum services of European countries that want to make this possible: the Dutch, French, Germans, Benelux, Portugal, Nordics, but also inviting Swiss and Norwegians, both members of Schengen and Dublin. Create a small secretariat to set out realistically the human resources needed for this (perhaps based in Madrid.) Appoint a credible coordinator with administrative experience to ensure that resources arrive in time. Learn from Greek islands experience: outsourcing this to EASO, under current procedures, is not going to work, as can be seen in Lesbos or Chios.If France would offer to host such a centre in Corsica (for people rescued in the central Mediterranean), if Malta would as well, it would be even better. Then such RICs should replace the current hotspots in Greece – to help accelerate asylum procedures, increase returns from the islands to Turkey (which currently stand at only 25 a month!) and to relieve the humanitarian crisis on the islands.
2. Immediate outreach to key African countries of origin for LARS (Legal Access and Return statements). Appoint a joint team (one Spanish, French, German) to go to West African countries first to offer simple and transparent statements. These statements should include:
Commitment from a coalition of willing EU member states to annual contingents of legal migration and scholarships to these EU countries in the next five years.
Commitment from African partners to take back everyone who crosses the Mediterranean after a day X and does not apply for or does not receive asylum in the EU. The goal is that the announcement itself sharply reduces arrivals.
Start negotiations with some African countries now (Senegal, Ivory Coast!) It is vital that other countries in Africa see this as attractive and want similar arrangements.
3. Commitment by European members of this coalition of concerned countries to quickly relocate those who get protection in these RICS, so there is no special burden for Spain – relocating recognised refugees, not asylum seekers.
May I suggest other questions put in a similar mindset?
Provide safe, clean water for people, in big cities, 24 hours a day? What a crazy idea. How would this ever be possible?
Run a hospital in any of our countries decently? Ensure that somebody maintains machines, pays bills, manages personnel, ensures enough medicine is available?
Choose leaders of a country by elections: how could this possibly be done? Just think of all the things that might go wrong when millions of people have to vote on the same day! How can anyone ensure they only vote once? How can we move so many ballots quickly?
Ensure that all airports in Europe guarantee basic security on and off planes. What, really: “all”? How can this possibly be done? Ok, we understand Amsterdam and Frankfurt: but nobody serious will expect Greece or Bulgaria to ensure safety in their airports? (Of course we do. And it works. Every day)
We can go on. The food safety of all dairy products sold in our markets every day? Education systems teaching millions of pupils (who come to school all on the same day in September!)? Environmental policy, product standard policy, security of online systems and communication. ANY field of policy requires effort and investment and serious planning to get any results. Everywhere. Always.
In reality, the implicit defeatism in discussions about sea rescue, asylum and returns reveals an astonishing lack of seriousness.
A German politician was quoted yesterday saying that any proposals to accommodate and process asylum applications of a few thousand people (in spain or anywhere) would inevitably lead to inhumane camps for masses of people. The same party proposes policies which aim to change the effect of human societies around the globe on the climate.
We understand the scepticism. It was not possible in 2.5 years on the Greek islands, to our ongoing frustration. Some now wonder if it is ever possible anywhere.
Of course it is. What Greece shows us is what happens when any serious interest in implementing what one decides is missing. When leaders and institutions don’t care. If we assume from the start that nobody cares about the decisions we take in the EU, though, or the goals in our own laws and conventions, then we might as well go home.
Civilisation takes effort. It has done so ever since our ancestors moved out of their caves.
Kernpunkte dieses Vorschlags sind: eine Koalition von betroffenen Staaten, in denen das Recht auf Asyl noch verteidigt werden soll; transparente und rechtskonforme Beschleunigung von Asylverfahren, schnelle Rückführungen jener, die keinen Schutz in der EU brauchen, freiwillige dezentrale Ansiedlung anerkannter Flüchtlinge und Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei. Und dadurch konkrete Ergebnisse noch vor dem Europaparlamentswahlen 2019.
Im Format einer „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ vereinbaren Frankreich und Deutschland im Verbund mit den Niederlanden, der Schweiz und Schweden den südeuropäischen Ankunftsländern Griechenland, Italien und Spanien solidarisch bei der Durchführung schneller qualitätsvoller Asylverfahren und der dezentralen Ansiedlung von anerkannten Asylbewerbern sowie bei der Rückführung nicht anerkannter Flüchtlinge zu helfen. Es geht um eine Demonstration von Erfolg, der die gesamte europäische Debatte beeinflussen soll: es ist möglich Kontrolle und Empathie zu verbinden.
Die Asylverfahren sollen in griechischen, italienischen und gegebenenfalls spanischen Hotspots inspiriert vom niederländisch/schweizerischen Vorbild, das Qualität mit Geschwindigkeit verbindet, ablaufen. (Das ist im Einklang mit bestehendem nationalem Recht in diesen Ländern möglich). Durch sofortige Zuordnung von bezahlten Rechtsanwälten zu den Asylsuchenden und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen zu den Verfahren werden Schnelligkeit und Solidität der Verfahren erreicht. Einschließlich Revision brauchen sie dank juristischer Kompetenz und dank hergestellter Transparenz höchstens zwei Wochen bis zu einer Erstinstanz-Entscheidung, und weitere höchstens 6 Wochen bis zu einer Berufungsentscheidung. Personal aus anderen europäischen Ländern soll bei der kompetenten Prüfung der Asylanträge helfen. Die Asylzusage gilt für alle Mitgliedsländer der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“.
Für die anerkannten Flüchtlinge bieten die genannten Länder sofort eine freiwillige Aufnahme an, wie sie Deutschland aus Griechenland noch im Herbst 2017 durchführte. Zugleich wird ein neues Verfahren freiwilliger dezentraler Aufnahme von anerkannten Flüchtlingen durch die Kommunen und Städte eingerichtet. Kommunen sind eingeladen, auf der Basis beratender Multi-Stakeholder Beiräte (Vertreter der Gemeindeverwaltungen, der Unternehmen und von Nichtregierungsorganisationen, einschließlich, wenn möglich, wissenschaftlicher Beratung) darüber zu entscheiden, ob und in welcher Zahl sie im Rahmen ihrer eigenen weiteren Entwicklung Flüchtlinge aufnehmen wollen. Ihre Angebote schicken sie an die Hotspots, wo die anerkannten Flüchtlinge sich ihrerseits für drei Städte/Kommunen bewerben können. Hierzu muss ein Matching-System eingeführt werden.
In der ersten Phase zahlen die Mitglieder der „Verstärkten Zusammenarbeit“ in einen Fonds ein, der außerhalb des EU-Haushalts angelegt ist und bei dem die Gemeinden die Erstattung ihrer Integrationskosten beantragen können. Sie erhalten dann für ihre eigene Entwicklung (Wohnungsbau, Infrastruktur, Bildung, Kultur etc.) zusätzlich die gleiche Summe.
Perspektivisch sollte die EU im nächsten mehrjährigen Finanzrahmen einen solchen Fonds als „Kommunalen Integrations- und Entwicklungsfonds“ anlegen, der neben der Flüchtlingsintegration zielgenau kommunale Investitionen fördert. Die Mitgliedstaaten beschließen, Flüchtlingen, um die sich Kommunen aus ihrem Hoheitsbereich bewerben, die Einreise zu gestatten. Wenn sie das ablehnen, können ihre Kommunen aus dem Fonds keine Investitionsförderung erhalten.
Jene deren Antrag abgelehnt wird oder bei denen entschieden wird, dass die Türkei für sie ein sicheres Land ist, werden in die Türkei zurückgeführt. Dazu wird eine glaubwürdige Ombudsperson für das Abkommen berufen, die in jedem Einzelfall der Frage der Behandlung jener nachgehen kann, die in die Türkei zurückgeschickt werden. Dazu werden wo möglich freiwillige Rückkehrprogramme in Herkunftsländer und Rückkehrberatung ausgebaut.
Parallel beteiligen sich die Mitglieder der betroffenen Länder verstärkt bei der in der EU-Türkei-Erklärung vorgesehenen Umsiedlung von Schutzbedürftigen aus der Türkei.
Ankara sollte weiters angeboten werden, die EU-Türkei-Erklärung auch auf die Landgrenze mit Griechenland auszudehnen – im Gegenzug könnte die schon versprochene finanzielle Hilfe für Flüchtlinge in der Türkei noch verlängert und aufgestockt werden (das ist im Interesse aller) .
Ein realistisches Szenario für Griechenland 2018
Eine realistische Annahme ist, dass im Rahmen einer solchen Initiative die Zahl derjenigen, die aus der Türkei nach Griechenland kommen, zunächst schnell wieder auf das Niveau der ersten Jahreshälfte 2017 fällt (mit etwa 1.500 Ankommenden im Monat), und dann noch niedriger. Wenn 1.000 abgelehnte Asylwerber im Monat in die Türkei zurückgeschickt würden, würde die Zahl der Ankommenden schnell fallen.
Dafür sollten EU-Staaten für jeden in Griechenland von dieser Mission anerkannten Flüchtling (500 im Monat?) einen Flüchtling aus Griechenland aufnehmen, und die Zahl der Umsiedlungen aus der Türkei ausbauen (auf mindestens 2.000 im Monat). So könnte die EU Griechenland helfen, die unzumutbaren Zustände auf den griechischen Inseln beseitigen, ein Model für schnelle qualitätsvolle Asylverfahren liefern, den Balkan entlasten, und den Druck auf die Grenzen Deutschlands spürbar reduzieren. Und all das im Einklang mit europäischem Recht und ohne Asylsuchende schlecht zu behandeln. Und die Verteilung anerkannter Flüchtlinge könnte zum Ausbau eines auf Freiwilligkeit beruhenden Systems flexibler europäischer Solidarität führen.
For this reason, like President Lech Wałęsa, we voice our support for the European Union with regard to the current proceedings taking place before the Court of Justice of the EU on the matter of the Polish Law on Ordinary Courts and we are impatiently awaiting the Court’s verdict.
We appeal to the European Committee to take without delay the Law on the Polish Supreme Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union in accordance with the provisions of Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and to file the relevant motion for applying interim measures.
The history of our continent teaches us that when the foundations of our common liberties are demolished, their restoration becomes extremely difficult.
As Piotr Buras and I wrote, exactly one week ago, in “European tragedy”: this is not a Polish issue only, but an existential issue for all Europeans, which touches the future of the rule of law anywhere in the EU. The more European media highlight what is at stake in Poland today, and what might still be done; the more policy makers across the EU respond, and call on their governments and the EU to act … the better for our common European future.
The EU has no future as a community based on laws if there are no independent courts in all member states.
For more background on what is at stake, and why so many Poles react so strongly in recent days, read the full report here: www.esiweb.org/poland:
“Concrete swift actions by the European Commission, member states and the European Court of Justice can still pre-empt the worst if
– the European Commission vigorously pursues the ongoing infringement procedure against the Law on the Ordinary Courts, which it launched in December 2017 before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The worst signal at this moment would be to withdraw this before it allows the Court of Justice to assess the state of courts in Poland today;
– The European Commission launches an infringement procedure against the Law on the Supreme Court immediately before the Court of Justice, with the aim to stop the mass dismissal of judges set to take place in early July and which would be almost impossible to reverse later.
– Important EU member states voice their support for both steps. At the same time the Council must ensure that the European Commissions “reasoned proposal” on the rule of law in Poland, based on Article 7 of the EU’ treaty, is put to the vote as soon as possible, and receives broad backing from member states.
The Polish government’s assault on its judiciary represents a threat to the EU’s legal order and long-term political stability. The EU and national legal orders are now so intertwined as to make up a single patchwork quilt, from which so great a hole cannot be cut, without the whole unravelling.
The rule of law is central to the very existence of the European Union. The second article of the Treaty of the European Union states confidently: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.” The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights states: “Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law.” What is at stake in Poland today is the future of the EU as a project based on core principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers and human rights.”
I would like to express my deep concern about the crisis caused by the far-reaching changes to the Polish judiciary. These raise fundamental doubts at home and abroad. The violation of the independence of Polish courts threatens very negative consequences, for Poland, but also for the entire European Union. The EU, which is the anchor of the Polish raison d’etat, cannot function without free courts in each member state.
That is why I am calling on the Polish government, the European Commission and all political forces in Poland to do their utmost to prevent the irreversible consequences of the changes to the judiciary and the political crisis they have caused.
Only the verdict of an independent court can solve the problem of the independence of the Polish judiciary today. Political agreements cannot serve as a response to these dubious propositions, wherein the tripartite separation of powers, the fundamental principles of law and the Polish constitution are at stake.
That is why I favour asking the Court of Justice of the European Union to evaluate the most questionable changes to the judiciary system, as its judgments are binding both for the European Commission and for EU member states.
I support the European Commission in relation to the proceedings pending before the EU Court of Justice concerning the law on common courts, and I am awaiting the Court’s decision. I am also calling on the European Commission to refer the law on the Supreme Court to the EU Court of Justice under Article 258 of the EU Treaty. Due to the reduction of the retirement age provided for in this law, about 40 percent of the Supreme Court’s judges will have to end their calling prematurely on 3 July.
These provisions raise very serious legal doubts, and the Tribunal should be given the opportunity to judge them. I appeal to all political forces in Poland to support this legal path, which may lead to the protection of the rule of law in Poland and the EU, and to a resolution of the political conflict. I also appeal to the Polish government to refrain from taking any actions that would hinder such a solution.
Just as in 1980 there could not be freedom without solidarity, so today there cannot be freedom without the rule of law!
As Italy votes – the case for a humane migration policy that works
John Dalhuisen and Gerald Knaus
“Those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse.”
Just over a year ago, the Italian government struck a deal with the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. Following the arrival of half a million refugees and migrants in just three years, the centre-left Democratic Party – the same party that set up the ambitious search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, back in 2013 – decided that it had to act. A short Memorandum of Understanding was followed by a string of agreements with Libyan mayors and tribal leaders negotiated – often personally – by Italy’s Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti. The policy had an immediate effect: arrivals in the second half of 2017 were down 70 percent compared to the same period the year before, and deaths at sea declined equally sharply.
Italy’s Libya strategy was backed by the rest of the EU but has been roundly criticised by NGOs and UN agencies for trapping thousands of migrants in a lawless country, in which they risk torture, extortion and slavery, sometimes at the hands of the very groups these agreements were struck with. The Libyan coast guard stands accused of handing over those it intercepts to inhumane detention centres, where abuse is common.
And yet, as Italians head to the polls today one thing looks certain: whichever coalition forms the next government, it is likely to continue the policy of the current minister of the interior, who has become one of the most popular politicians in the country. No political party polling more than a few percent is opposed to the policy. In an election dominated by migration, promising to control borders is a pre-requisite for success.
This sobering reality highlights the true challenge for those who care about the right of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya. It is this: how can one persuade those who will shape Italy’s Mediterranean policy in the coming years that a policy that combines control with empathy, effectiveness with humanity, and reduced irregular migration with human rights is not only possible but also electorally preferable for the next Italian government?
A humane policy must aim for zero deaths at sea. It must ensure that all those rescued by European boats have access to a fair, effective asylum procedure. It must ensure that nobody who is intercepted by the Libyan coast guard ends up in inhumane detention centres. And it must protect those in need of protection from being pushed back into danger in their home countries.
How can these goals be met? The next Italian government should propose to its European partners a realistic plan that includes the following four elements.
First, a common effort is needed to ensure sufficient search and rescue capacity beyond Libya’s territorial waters. In the first six months of 2017 more than 2,500 refugees and migrants drowned. 600 people still drowned in the second half of the year despite the reduction in departures. Instead of demonising NGO rescue boats or leaving it to the Libyan coast guard or the Italian authorities, all European countries should make an even bigger effort.
Second, Western support to the Libyan coast guard and the Libyan authorities should be linked to a clear condition: that anybody intercepted/rescued by its boats and taken back to Libya should be offered immediate evacuation to Niger by IOM. The numbers involved make this possible: in 2017 the Libyan coast guard intercepted less than 1,500 people a month on average. In Niger, those who choose not to apply for asylum should be offered assisted return to their countries of origin via IOM. Those who do should be resettled to a safe country if found to be in need of protection. The same should happen with all those (around 5,000) currently held in Libyan detention centres.
Third, securing European agreements with key African countries of origin for the return of all failed asylum seekers arriving after an agreed date should be a priority. The challenge is to find a humane, legal way of reducing irregular economic migration. This can best be achieved by changing the incentives that currently exist for would be economic migrants. Currently the only disincentives to travelling to Europe are the cost and the risk of the journey. The vast majority of migrants who make it to Italy can be confident that they will be able to stay, whether they are granted international protection or not. Last year 130,000 people applied for asylum in Italy, a majority from West African countries. The same year 12,000 applicants were granted international protection. But (almost) everybody stays in Europe, regardless of their asylum status. One obvious reason for this is the reluctance of countries of origin to cooperate in the identification and return of their citizens. In 2016 more than 100,000 people arrived in Italy from six West African nations; around 4,300 citizens of these countries were granted international protection. And 255 returned, voluntarily or by force. Successive Italian authorities have found it easiest to allow migrants to either move on to other European countries, or integrate, however precariously, into Italy’s thriving black economy. Countries of origins should be offered an annual contingent of regular visas (not just by Italy) for work or study. Such agreements will only work if they are found to be in the interests of countries of origin.
Fourth, seriously discouraging irregular economic migration also requires a quick, but fair, asylum process that should seek to award a protection status or move to deport those found to have no claim within two to three months at most. This need not come at the expense of quality: the Netherlands have one of the best systems in Europe and it consistently delivers informed decisions within this timeframe. It may require keeping most asylum-seekers in closed centres for this duration. It would certainly require the financial and administrative support of other EU countries, which should relocate recognized asylum seekers. This would not be cheap to run, or easy to set up, but as a joint European effort it is doable.
This plan would not end all arrivals in Europe – which is not the goal – but it would sharply reduce numbers – which is. It would create legal channels for refugees and economic migrants. It would reduce deaths at sea and not condemn people to torture in Libyan detention centres. It would guarantee access to asylum for those who do reach Italy and uphold the core principles of the Refugee convention for those who do not.
But would such a “Rome plan” be in the interest of the next Italian government? We believe that it would. Italian politics highlights realities which are true for most of the EU today. Any political party that fails to promise to control borders renders itself unelectable. At the same time there are a lot of voters who care about the right to asylum and do not want to see those who cross borders treated inhumanely. Offering such policies would distinguish mainstream parties, on the left and on the right, from racists on the far-right.
And the human rights community? Many will welcome the commitment to legal paths, but baulk at the prospect of more returns, faster procedures and closed asylum processing centres. But those making moral calculations must reflect on the fact that the only real alternative – in this imperfect world – is not something better, but something much worse. Demagogues are best defeated by demonstrating – with conviction and through effective policies – that a world in which empathy has a central place, is possible.
Such a plan is in Italy’s interest. The EU should back it. So should anyone who cares about human rights in the Mediterranean and about the welfare of those so desperately trying to cross it.
John Dalhuisen is ESI Senior Fellow and former director for Europe @ Amnesty International; Gerald Knaus is ESI founding chairman