Amidst a rise in populism across the European Union, EU states are implementing unlawful measures to push back or return refugees and asylum seekers fleeing from strife and conflict.
In June 2018, far-right Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, implemented a blockade on NGO rescue ships disembarking at Italian ports, leaving only the Italian Coast Guard legally able to bring asylum seekers to shore. These NGO rescue vessels have been forced to reroute to other countries, including Spain and France, lengthening the time individuals on board must do without proper medical care.
At the end of June, interior ministers from Germany, Austria, and Italy, announced a joint plan to create offshore “disembarkation centers” to hold asylum seekers rescued in international waters. Very few details about these centers have been disclosed, other than that they would be built in North African countries. The centers have since been compared to Australia’s infamous Nauru Detention Center, where asylum seekers have languished in inhumane conditions, some for up to nine years.
These and other immigration-related measures were the focus of a July 12th meeting in the city of Innsbruck, Austria, which brought together 28 EU interior ministers. In remarks made after the meeting, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, confirmed that the group was exploring the possibility of creating “regional disembarkation platforms” for those deported from Europe.
Avramopoulos also recently said that EU countries should take advantage of their “privileged relationships”with other states, suggesting they should pressure their previous colonies to establish detention facilities on their shores. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and recently Egypt, have publicly stated, however, that they are unwilling to participate in the disembarkation center scheme. Egyptian government representatives said such a tactic would violate their country’s constitution.
As these ill-conceived plans demonstrate, EU leaders are violating their obligations under international law to protect refugees. Disembarkation centers, or offshore detention centers, would, instead, outsource human suffering to other countries with already limited resources, keeping individuals in limbo for years on end.