The detainment of refugees on remote islands, detention centres with very high fences in secluded areas, the privatisation of refugee centres – all ideas that go directly against international humanitarian law; all ideas currently implemented by the Australian government.
In an article published by The Guardian in early 2016, these practices were referred to as “a global inspiration for all the wrong reasons.” The author lashes out against ongoing talks in Brussels by referring to the analogy of Fortress Europe – “Brussels has proposed an Australian-style border force to monitor the EU’s borders and deport asylum seekers. Germany and France support this – the most powerful nations have little interest in resolving the reasons so many people are streaming into Europe and prefer to pull up a drawbridge.” He blames this sense of apathy on a general acceptance that all those in search of refugee are actually threatening terrorists waiting to wreak havoc on the Western world, despite the fact that this has been disproved time and time again.
This article depicts a stark contrast to the words spoken by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, the previous year when he stated that “We can build walls and we can build fence, but imagine if it were you, your child in your arms.” Officially, the European Union acknowledges the humanitarian urgency of the refugee crisis that has plagued the region for the past few years – it understands the pressing need for “targeted humanitarian aid combined with sustainable development assistance”, but the extent to which such words are actually adhered to in practice is questionable.
In an EU military committee document leaked by WikiLeaks in May 2015, the operation dealing with refugee crisis at the time consisted of “embarking and handling of migrants in international waters, including the potential readmission at the point of departure, boarding and neutralising of vessels, detaining and/or prosecuting individuals, and possible transfer of detainees to Third State jurisdiction” – hardly the most humanitarian approach. Public Services International (PSI) referred to such practices as a “deep cause for concern”, while also asserting that seeking refuge in another country is a fundamental human right, and not a crime.
Some EU member states have already implemented a system of privatisation of refugee and migration services. The UK, for instance, outsources to G4S and Serco – two companies which are not equipped to provide necessary humanitarian aid to refugees. The EU itself has also adopted a hot spot approach that facilitates the privatisation process. It has increasingly also invested more money in outsourcing to airlines as well as other security companies to help patrol EU borders. In research conducted by the aforementioned PSI in March 2017, those countries with the highest recorded refugee deaths have privatised refugee and migrant services.
Through privatisation of refugee camps, companies are also more likely to work based on personal interest, meaning that money-making will take precedence over providing the best possible service. There is also an inevitable lack of transparency when it comes to which corporations are awarded the contracts by governments. Increasingly, with the mounting pressure that EU member states are being faced with, governments are relying more and more on private companies, which has led to the migration crisis being seen as a business opportunity, as opposed to a crisis which needs to be tackled to save lives.
In a report published by the Institute of Pace Relations in 2015, out of the 160 reported deaths of asylum seekers in European countries, 123 deaths were somehow linked to shortcomings of the system in place, and lack of good medical treatment caused 23 deaths. Extreme hardship and abysmal conditions were attributed to the rest of the deaths.
Currently, the EU has numerous directives and policies in place that aim to tackle this calamity. These include the revised Asylum Procedures Directive which deals with faster and better asylum decisions; the revised Reception Conditions Directive that seeks to ensure decent housing conditions for asylum seekers; the revised Qualification Directive which focuses on integration and protection of refugees; the revised Dublin Regulation which is more oriented towards the root causes of the problem; and the revised EURODAC Regulation that deals with the legal and potentially criminal aspect of the crisis.
The question still remains, however, whether all that is promised in these directives is actually being implemented in practice. It is no secret that dealing with such a crisis as a Union of sovereign countries is no easy feat, especially considering the wide array of opinions and ideologies that come together at an EU level. However, shouldn’t such differences be cast aside when human lives are at stake? A more unified European approach is required – one in which EU countries could pool in their sovereignty over migration policy, within the European Union.
To quote an article published on Policy Contribution in 2017, “This is obviously a very difficult objective to reach at the current stage of European integration. However, failing to provide these public goods would weaken European social cohesion and the general political consensus behind the European project.”