Europe and Asylum: A Promise Betrayed

, by Jean Pierre Gauci

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Europe and Asylum: A Promise Betrayed

As summer begins, boat loads of people arrive at southern European shores bringing with them people carrying no documents or assets and who to many seem to mean nothing but a burden on their economy. Many find it difficult to look a bit further and realize that each and every one of these immigrants comes with a package including a history, a life and most of all hope...

We speak of 20 Eritreans disembarking into our shores yet never of the hundreds being arrested for the peaceful expression of their opinion or religious beliefs, the political prisoners being held indefinitely and without trial and the torture of those fleeing or evading military conscription in that country. We speak of the 100 Somali’s brought in by the Armed Forces but do we know of the state collapse and political violence there? We speak of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but how many are aware of the almost genocidal situation in Darfur?

Although the number of asylum claims lodged in Europe has continuously dropped over the last few years, the political importance in Europe of how a government is managing its national asylum systems has not diminished. In fact the development of a common European asylum system is one of the most complex and politically charged policy areas ever tackled by the European Union. Public opinion is also catching up and asylum has become a major topic of discussion in various European countries especially the ones on the borders.

Over 2005 Europe was marked by a consistent pattern of human rights violations linked to the interception, detention and expulsion by states of foreign nationals, including those seeking international protection. At least 13 people were killed when trying to cross from Morocco into Spain allegedly as a result of Spanish and Moroccan law enforcement officers using disproportionate and lethal force to prevent them entering the enclaves.

Men, women, children continue to face obstacles in accessing asylum procedures. In Greece, Italy, Spain and the UK, some are unlawfully detained, and others are denied necessary guidance and legal support. Many are unlawfully expelled before the claims can be heard whilst others are sent to countries where they risk serious human rights violations. The fact that EU member states are among those doing this illustrates the European Union’s failure to acknowledge that it faces a crisis of protection, rather than asylum.

A growing concern which is often linked to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is the issue of racism and discrimination.

This extends also to new Member States, among which the tiniest of them all. In Malta, the human rights of irregular immigrants including asylum seekers and refugees continue to be violated through the implementation of the automatic detention policy and conditions of detention which have been criticised by many fronts as amounting to cruel and inhuman conditions. Since 2002 an estimated 5583 people had passed through the four administrative detention centres whilst in March 2006 these held 1017 people. The centres are overcrowded and temperature in the winter months has known to fall below 6ºC whilst no heating or even adequate clothing is available. Over 2005 asylum procedures were improved by they still fall short of international standards. Moreover, in November 2005, the government enacted an amendment to Article 10 of the Refugee Act which would allow Malta to deport asylum seekers while their appeal against the rejection of their asylum application was still pending. Harsh conditions, ill treatment and brutality by law enforcement officials were reported from the detention centres.

A growing concern which is often linked to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is the issue of racism and discrimination. Over the past months, many countries in the European Union were affected by what have been rightly termed hate crimes, crimes directed against an individual for no other reason then by virtue of the colour of his skin. Incidents have been reported of migrants being beaten on the road while a series of arson attacks has affected many individuals and organizations who have spoken openly in favour of human rights.

This reality is unfortunately often ignored but it is and will remain a shameful blot on Europe’s human rights record. When exactly, will we all start to face and accept reality?

 Asylum seekers in Pavshyno detention centre near Mukachevo, Ukraine.

© UNHCR/L Taylor

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