Nation first policy is a part of de-globalisation which is visible in the EU policies related to refugees. The crisis in 2015 highlighted a key shortcoming in the European asylum system: the failure to share responsibility fairly across all EU member states.
A refugee is a person outside their country of nationality who is unable to return due to fear of persecution. The United Nations Refugee Convention says a refugee is a person who: "owing to a wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [or her] nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself [or herself] of the protection of that country."
People seek refuge because they fear for their lives and their futures.
The decision to leave home could happen suddenly or take a long time after months or even years of the situation getting worse. The main reasons people leave their homes are:
- Conflict: Armies fighting for control may try to weaken the other side by threatening lives of civilians, kidnapping children, raping women, burning crops and forests, destroying houses, schools and health clinics, polluting wells and laying landmines. People flee in fear to escape further pain and loss.
- Oppression: The ruling power may not respect human rights by imposing harsh treatment, especially on people it suspects of disagreeing or opposing it. This means people flee in fear for their safety.
- Hatred: Hostility, retaliation and injustice between ethnicities, religious or other groups can threaten people's lives. As a result, people flee in fear for their lives.
- Environmental issues: Natural disasters and climate change also cause people to flee. Despite the difficulties they face, they are not protected by international refugee laws. In some cases environmental issues cause resource shortages that lead to conflict, creating refugees.
Common refugee experiences include seeing their homes and communities destroyed and spending many years living in refugee camps or in volatile urban situations. Mobility and opportunities for employment are limited, and they often do not have access to health or education services. Many have been subjected to rape and torture, witnessed friends being murdered or been separated from their family when fleeing their homes.
Current Refugee Movement in Europe
- Today, some 84% of those reaching Europe come from the ten countries that produce the most refugees: Some 84% of those reaching Europe come from the ten countries that produce the most refugees: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Iraq, and Eritrea. In these countries, large areas are affected by war and severe civil strife.
- The majority of arrivals to the European Union in 2016 have come via the Mediterranean. Since the beginning of the year, more than 4,600 people have died or gone missing while attempting to reach Italy from the North African coast. This is the highest recorded number of deaths in the Mediterranean to date.
- The highest number of migrants arrives in Greece and Italy, often after a perilous journey across the sea. In Greece, around 62,000 people are waiting to have their asylum applications processed, with about 11,400 of them held in facilities on the Greek islands. Each month, less than 1,000 asylum decisions are given, with more than that number of asylum seekers arriving. In Italy, over 11,000 people per month applied for asylum in 2016, and on average between 6,000 and 8,000 are processed every month. Faced with this unprecedented situation, both countries have struggled to provide decent reception facilities with even basic services.
What is the European Union's asylum policy?
The miss-management and politicization has led to a humanitarian and political crisis largely of the EU's own making that needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency.
Instead of providing for safe and orderly channels into the EU for asylum seekers and refugees and sharing responsibility for them equitably, the EU and its member states have endorsed policies designed to limit arrivals and to outsource responsibility to regions and countries outside of the EU.
Individual member states have rolled back asylum rights at a national level and the European Commission has proposed an overhaul of the common European asylum system that is more informed by logic of deterrence than a commitment to basic human rights.
- The EU Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is a set of EU laws, completed in 2005. They are intended to ensure that all EU member states protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. The CEAS sets out minimum standards and procedures for processing and deciding asylum applications, and for the treatment of both asylum seekers and those who are recognized as refugees. Implementation of CEAS varies throughout the European Union. A number of EU states still do not operate fair, effective systems of asylum decision-making and support, leading to a patchwork of 28 asylum systems producing uneven results.
- Asylum seekers have no legal duty to claim asylum in the first EU state they reach, and many move on, seeking to join relatives or friends for support, or to reach a country with a functioning asylum system. However, the "Dublin" regulation stipulates that EU member states can choose to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry to process their asylum claim, so long as that country has an effective asylum system.
- EU countries in the north, the desired destination of many refugees, have sought to use this Dublin system to their advantage, at the expense of the south, where most refugees first arrive. Yet these efforts have been obstructed by failures of asylum systems in the south. Domestic and European courts have ruled against asylum seekers being returned to Greece, notably in a landmark case in 2011 that found Belgium in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for exposing an Afghan national to detention, harsh living conditions, and risks arising from shortcomings in Greece's asylum system after a return.
- To address the uneven application of CEAS and the problems of the Dublin system, a reform of the CEAS was proposed in 2016. Among the proposed reforms is one that risks endangering the right to asylum in the EU, with an obligation to verify first if asylum seekers could find protection outside the EU. Some EU countries have already voiced opposition to some of the reforms, notably the obligation to take refugees from other EU countries.
Humanitarian crisis faced by Refugees
Often times those who flee their countries may end up in refugee camps, temporary settlements made to receive those escaping their homes. These refugee camps can house thousands of refugees and are set up by the governmental organization such as the United Nations (U.N.) or an international non-governmental organization such as the Red Cross. However, those who fled to refugee camps are often subject to harsh living conditions as well and face many difficulties. Often times, these camps consist of refugees living in tents with limited resources. Food and water is unpredictable and those living in these camps usually cannot leave or find work outside of these camps.
EU response to refugees
While European and other nation states must follow the law on this issue however, rather than offering refugees and migrants the chance to avoid irregular border crossings, by creating safe and legal routes for people to move to Europe and improving conditions in refugee camps, Europe has focused on increasing border controls and stepping up returns.
No matter how much money European governments invest in international aid projects purportedly intended to address the root causes of displacement, the reality is that EU leaders have so far largely favored projects that create barriers for migration-and they have used international aid as leverage to get African governments to cooperate in their implementation.
The currently preferred method for solving the migrant crisis seems to be "externalization." This involves recruiting countries refugees and migrants come from or travel through to tighten border controls or to shift protection responsibilities to other countries.
So-called externalization policies increase the likelihood of human rights violations.
These policies can end up encouraging or supporting refoulement, collective expulsions, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and other serious human rights violations. Investing in such measures might not even achieve the desired result of reducing irregular arrivals. In the absence of alternatives, people fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty will still try to flee the only way they can, putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.
But radical change is needed. European leaders must end their focus on the short-term objective of reducing crossings. Instead, a bold plan is needed to support human rights protection in countries of origin and transit and to make safe routes available to refugees and would-be migrants.
Such measures would provide a safer and more orderly alternative to dangerous irregular crossings and in so doing, steer refugees and migrants away from criminal networks who leech off their desperation. Only then will the tragedy of lives lost at sea become a thing of the past and the rights of vulnerable men, women and children will be truly protected.
Specifically, the EU and its member states should:
- Prioritize saving lives at sea through sustained search and rescue operations along the main migration routes in the Mediterranean. Renew efforts to obtain permission to operate in Libyan waters so that EU-flagged vessels can assist in search and rescue operations there.
- Ensure that any efforts to "externalize" migration management do not worsen access to protection and respect for human rights, including by:
- Designing, implementing, monitoring and reporting publicly on EU migration cooperation arrangements with third countries to ensure this cooperation does not trap people in abusive situations, prevent them from accessing fair asylum procedures, or lead to refoulement.
- Delinking development aid from migration control in those countries where this linkage appears to be in place.
- Ensuring that programs developed with security forces and other government agencies in countries of origin do not contribute to human rights violations.
- Ensuring that migration cooperation with Libyan authorities, including the training of Libyan Coast Guard and Navy officers, has a strong human rights component, with monitoring and accountability for any abuses and independent, impartial and transparent monitoring of conditions and treatment in Libyan detention centers to ensure that they meet basic standards. The EU should suspend the training program if abuses continue.
- Increase safe and legal channels into the EU to reduce demand for smuggling and dangerous journeys.
- Accelerating the pace of relocations and setting up a timeline for the implementation of the relocation targets. The European Commission should open infringement procedures against member states that are failing to comply with their relocation obligations.
- Ensure that all beneficiaries of protection already in the EU enjoy the right to family reunification without onerous conditions or waiting periods. There should be no distinction between subsidiary protection and refugee status with respect to family reunification rights.
- Governments also need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for economic and social problems, and instead combat all kinds of xenophobia and racial discrimination. Doing otherwise is deeply unfair, stirs up tensions and fear of foreigners, and sometimes leads to violence - even death.