When EU funds are waving
Translation of the interview with migration and development expert Sophia Wirsching, first published in German at domradio.de.
“Creating safe reception facilities in transit countries” is one of the goals of SPD faction leader Thomas Oppermann. Hence, he encourages cooperation with Libya. The charity Bread for the World deems this questionable under international law.
Domradio.de: “Migration partnership” is the magic word, which has recently been used more and more frequently in connection with refugee policies. This targets, for example, the intensified cooperation with countries such as Libya or Egypt. They are promised money in exchange for ensuring that refugees do not even cross the Mediterranean. Is this pure symbolic politics?
Sophia Wirsching (Expert in Migration and Development for Bread for the World): It is certainly a policy that comes at the cost of refugees and all those who are now in Libya. That is why one cannot simply speak of symbolic politics; instead, it is rather a policy which is directed against the human rights of refugees.
Domradio.de: De facto, there exists no functioning government in Libya. How and with whom can you actually conclude an agreement?
Wirsching: The German federal government or the European Union identified partners who do not have actual control over the entire country. Now, the Libyan coast guard shall be trained and placed in a position to immediately return refugees when they leave Libya.
Domradio.de: What does this mean for refugees if they remain in Libya and Egypt? Most of the time, they come from third countries like Eritrea or Nigeria.
Wirsching: For refugees, especially in Libya, this means that they are exposed to a life of extreme insecurity. It is already very difficult for refugees to survive in Libya and for all those seeking protection. The Libyan regime has neither recognized the Geneva Convention on Refugees nor is there such a thing as the right to asylum. Last week, we were informed via the media that even the German Federal Foreign Office considers the situation for refugees catastrophic. People are hidden in camps for years; they are shot and have no chance of seeking protection, for instance.
Domradio.de: How credible is the EU then when it demands compliance with human rights standards and imposes its values elsewhere?
Wirsching: At this point, one must say that the EU is in any case trying to outsource refugee protection to countries that are not able to provide this protection. This is in contrast to the human rights to which the EU has committed itself.
Domradio.de: Does this mean that Libya and Egypt are doing the dirty work for the European Union?
Wirsching: Yes, and with European funds. This is also the reason why such states engage in such cooperation with the EU. The EU is waving with financial support. What this aims at is that the equipment of the coast guard service is financed by the EU. Development projects are also promised. This brings the states to agree to the objectives of EU’s migration policy.
Domradio.de: What actually happens with refugees who are, in fact, persecuted, as is the case for example in Eritrea, where a return trip to the homeland is not quite possible?
Wirsching: These questions are still unanswered. It must be said that the idea of camps in Libya, which were repeatedly mentioned by some politicians in recent days, cannot yet be read in the EU’s plans. Clearly, there are already talks about creating capacities to accommodate refugees in these countries. However, so far, nothing has been mentioned about people being unable to continue their journey to the EU. Such asylum centres, as Mr Oppermann has now proposed, are not enforceable under international law because there is no legal basis at all to operate such camps.
Domradio.de: SPD parliamentary party chief Thomas Oppermann said also that one should bring refugees, who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, back to North Africa. Such proposals normally come from the Union. Were you surprised to hear something like this now from the Social Democrats?
Wirsching: Very. I think it was certainly a statement made to win votes for the upcoming election campaign. However, soon after these statements, we were already able to hear contrary views from members of the SPD. These proposals are clearly in contradiction with the legal requirements that demand that people cannot be returned to unsafe countries. Just because you want to make this pact with Libya, it does not necessarily make the state safe – and for refugees it makes the country absolutely unsafe.
Domradio.de: How do you rate Oppermann’s argument that this is the only way to curb the smuggling criminality?
Wirsching: The smuggling criminality is above all a symptom that makes it impossible for refugees to legally enter the EU and seek protection there. What would instead be really necessary is, for example, resettlement measures or humanitarian programs to give people an opportunity to legally seek protection in Europe, thus making the smuggling industry obsolete.
The original interview in German was published at domradio.de on the 6 February 2017 and can be found here: Winken mit EU Geldern