Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Opinion

EU to migrants: Go home and stay home

BRUSSELS — The dehumanization of Europe is on the march.

Capitulating to populist anti-immigration politicians, European Union leaders are pulling up the drawbridge to migrants fleeing war, famine and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

The cries of those drowning in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe were drowned out at the EU summit last week by the sound of the Continents leaders washing their hands of the misfortune of asylum seekers to save their political skins.

In the name of “breaking the business model of smugglers (and) preventing tragic loss of life,” the EU drew up plans to prevent boats leaving North Africa for Italy, Malta and Spain and to send back migrants plucked out of the water to be interned in the country from which they sailed.

Go home and stay home — that was the message, crafted in the dead-handed bureaucratic prose of an EU summit communiqué. And if you got ashore before the shutters came down, then stay put, preferably behind barbed wire, and dont even think of moving north to a country where you might get a job and a roof.

Migrants wait onboard the NGO Proactiva Open Arms boat on July 1, 2018 | Olmo Calvo/AFP via Getty Images

Such was the price for temporarily saving German Chancellor Angela Merkels job, momentarily appeasing Italys new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, and convincing Austrias ruling conservative/hard-right coalition to keep Alpine border crossings open for now.

It certainly wont solve the humanitarian and demographic pressures behind migration. And it may not be sufficient as a political fix either. Indeed, hard-liners are already baying for more.

Three years ago, Merkel opened Germanys borders to a wave of refugees and migrants, mostly from Syrias civil war, saying “We can manage this.” Now, Europe has decided it cannot manage even a much smaller flow of migrants — arrivals are 95 percent down from the October 2015 peak, according to official EU figures — and is prepared to go to great lengths to stop it.

Its hard to dispute Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian floor leader of the Greens group in the European Parliament, who said EU leaders had effectively buried the right to asylum in Europe.

“From now on, it will be virtually impossible to submit an asylum request on European soil,” Lamberts said of the summit outcome. “Far from blocking the road to the extreme right, as some still try to pretend, the heads of state and government have adopted its program.”

As they chase their populist challengers, Europes leaders are straying ever further from the humane values they proclaim in lofty declarations.

Three years after a picture of a drowned infant on a Turkish beach triggered an outpouring of solidarity across the Continent, many Europeans have grown desensitized to migrant beggars and rough-sleepers in their streets and subways, including children. For weeks, a squalid tent-camp for homeless migrants beside the Canal Saint-Martin co-existed with Parisian hipsters enjoying a drink at an open-air bar a few meters away. And then, the police arrived one morning to take the migrants away.

The EUs political leaders too have developed a thick skin of indifference, hardened by their fear of populists at the palace gates, or within its walls.

At the EU summit, they enriched the lexicon of euphemisms for detention camps with a new treasure of imagination, calling for the creation of “regional disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc. There, people fished out of the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe would be parked, preferably with a fig leaf of United Nations supervision, while their suitability to request asylum is summarily examined.

As for those migrants who manage to reach Europe, the summit statement justifies locking them up with another semantic smokescreen of multiple-clause Euro-gobbledygook:

“On EU territory, those who are saved, according to international law, should be taken charge of, on the basis of a shared effort, through the transfer in controlled centers set up in Member States, only on a voluntary basis, where rapid and secure processing would allow, with full EU support, to distinguish between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity would apply.”

The EUs creeping embrace of policies long advocated only by the extreme right follows the widespread adoption of its vocabulary by mainstream politicians.

League leader Matteo Salvini has barred ships carrying migrants from docking in Italian ports | Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

In April, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, a former Socialist, told parliament that some regions of France were “submerged under the flows of asylum seekers” — an image popularized by far-right Marine Le Pen. If lawmakers dont adopt his restrictive asylum and immigration bill, Collomb warned, harder men would impose more brutally efficient measures with less humanity.

Center-right European Council President Donald Tusk used an almost identical argument to justify the measures he put to the EU summit. “Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration. But trust me, if we dont agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.”

Words like these feed the Continents crocodiles, but they do not sate their appetites.

Merkels domestic challenger, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of her Christian Democrats Bavarian CSU sister party, who had threatened to close German borders unilaterally to asylum seekers registered in another EU state, raised the stakes by declaring the Brussels deal inadequate and threatening to walk out on her. Merkel and Seehofer agreed a compromise late Monday under which Berlin will establish transit zones along Germanys southern border to allow for accelerated deportations of refugees who are not entitled to seek asylum in the country.

Italys Salvini, who has barred rescue ships carrying migrants from docking in Italian ports and called for a census of Roma in his first weeks in office, said Italy would not set up such “controlled centers” or take back asylum seekers if they travel on to other EU countries.

If the EU could have built a wall across the Mediterranean Sea, it would have done so by now.

Having successfully defied an EU decision requiring them to accept a mandatory quota of refugees to help share the burden, the four Visegrad countries of Central Europe thumbed their noses at Merkel and Brussels, saying they would not take in any asylum seekers voluntarily either.

Even Merkel sounded skeptical that the agreed steps would be implemented. Too many governments, agencies and international organizations would have to cooperate to make the “disembarkation platforms” and “controlled centers” work. Cynical politicians have more interest in stoking public fear and passing the buck than in collaborating on solutions.

As they chase their populist challengers, Europes leaders are straying ever further from the humane values they proclaim in lofty declarations.

“European leaders should not abandon these values to obtain a short-lived, late-night fix,” said Michael Leigh, former head of the European Commissions enlargement department and now a professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins graduate center in Bologna, Italy.

“Rounding up migrants, fleeing war, conflict, persecution, drought or poverty, and putting them behind bars should have no place in a continent that has lived through the tragedies of the 20th century.”

Europe can no longer claim the moral high ground from which to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump for building a wall along the border with Mexico to keep migrants out.

If the EU could have built a wall across the Mediterranean Sea, it would have done so by now.

Paul Taylor, contributing editor at POLITICO, writes the Europe At Large column.

Original Article

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