The Refugee ‘Crisis’ in Europe

Since the beginning of 2016, more than 348,664 people have entered Europe irregularly to seek refuge.  In doing so, almost 5,000 have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea from the Asian and African continents https://missingmigrants.iom.int. The numbers tragically rise on an almost daily basis.

It is no coincidence that the majority of refugees fleeing to Europe are from countries which have suffered from illegal intervention by the US and its NATO allies.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Greece, where 47% of asylum seekers who have entered the country are Syrian, 24% are Afghan and 15% are Iraqi.

Fleeing war and violence, these people risk their lives to reach Europe, often arriving severely traumatised both physically and mentally.

Fortress Europe

Rather than provide these asylum seekers with safe passage and asylum with all the associated rights contained in the 1951 Geneva Convention, the EU has taken an approach which attempts to deter these people from seeking refuge in Europe.

The creation of a ‘hotspot’ approach in Greece and Italy has served to create a systematic breach of the rights of asylum seekers.

Upon arrival at these entry points, they are arbitrarily detained in inhuman and degrading conditions.  Asylum seekers are further submitted to such extreme conditions even when released and awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications.  These circumstances are made even more dangerous by the excruciatingly long amount of time it takes to process such applications, often contravening the EU Recast Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU.  Once an application is considered lodged, asylum seekers are often deprived of the rights enshrined in the Geneva Convention, the UN Covenants and the Reception Conditions Directive, including the right to work, education, training and healthcare

In order to avoid even considering the merits of applications for asylum, Member States of the European Union seek to wash their hands of their obligations under international law by designating countries outside of Europe as ‘safe third countries’ which asylum seekers can be returned to.  Incredibly, Turkey is considered as such a country despite the increasingly fascistic nature of the Erdogan regime.  Ignoring the reports of the killing of refugees, their exploitation and their refoulement, the EU seeks to expand on such an approach with the establishing of a ‘new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration’.

With fluctuating reception conditions across the EU and discriminatory policies applied by countries within the EU towards non-Syrian nationals in the areas of detention and asylum procedure, it is no wonder that many asylum seekers choose to travel across Europe in search of adequate sanctuary.  The Dublin III Regulation compounds this situation as it seeks to send individuals who have made the often treacherous journey to Western Europe back to frontier countries where the conditions are worst.

Every step an asylum seeker takes further into Europe is met with hostility.  The EU wishes to make it abundantly clear that it is a Fortress and refugees are certainly not welcome.  In this context, the term ‘Refugee Crisis’ is a poor misnomer, seemingly absolving EU member states of having created a problem arising from European illegal intervention abroad and racist indifference and hostility at home.

The Current Response

The IADL notes the efforts of those within the pro refugee movement who attempt through their voluntary efforts to provide much needed humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers across Europe.

It is of course vitally important for European civil society to try as best it can to meet the urgent needs of asylum seekers in this desperate situation.

The IADL believes it is equally if not more important however, to shape a response which also highlights and tackles the complete failure of Member States to guarantee the rights of asylum seekers who are trying to enter or already within the EU.  Without a more political response within the pro refugee movement, its efforts will simply end in short term victories which do not go to the heart of the problem but serve to perpetuate it.

Towards a progressive and principled position on the Refugee Question

With this in mind, the IADL believes that a response by progressive lawyers to the Refugee Question in Europe should assert the following principles:

  • Be in support of the right to peace and against the illegal interventions of the US and other NATO countries in Asia and Africa
  • Defend the right to asylum and expand its definition to include at the very least the concepts of environmental and economic refugees
  • Oppose the racist concept of Fortress Europe and the growing fascist movements which embrace it
  • Oppose the EU Turkey deal and all deals which seek to send asylum applicants to third countries outside of the EU
  • Support the securing of safe passage for asylum seekers wishing to travel to and within the EU to the Member State they consider appropriate
  • Support the pro refugee movement and assist in its developing of a human rights and refugee oriented approach

A concrete act of solidarity

The IADL resolves to take the following steps to act in solidarity with asylum seekers in Europe by:

  1. Developing legal strategies which defend and advance the right to asylum in Europe
  2. Developing legal strategies which challenge the EU Turkey agreement
  3. Developing legal strategies which highlight and tackle the deficiencies in the Common European Asylum System and its implementation in EU member states, particularly on issues of arbitrary detention, reception conditions and delay
  4. Continuing legal campaign work which is against all aspects of the racist concept of Fortress Europe
  5. Assisting the pro refugee movement in Europe by partnering with legal centres that meet the following criteria:
    1. Accept the position of the IADL as outlined above
    2. Submit themselves to the highest level of financial transparency, which at a minimum involves providing quarterly financial reports to the secretaries and treasurers of the IADL and the local national association where the legal centre is based.
    3. Provide quarterly reports of the legal centre’s activities to the IADL
    4. Do not seek or accept funds from foundations, companies or organisations which are directly responsible for the cause and continuation of the refugee crisis.

Those who are chosen to partner with the IADL will be offered, when possible, the following:

  1. The provision of volunteer lawyers and legal students who are members of IADL affiliated national associations
  2. Legal training on international and local aspects of asylum law
  3. Funding opportunities to develop these legal projects