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A migration pact not fit for purpose

Ten points regarding the recent migration pact proposed by the Renzi government in Italy.

Migrants disembark at Palermo harbour after being rescued at sea. Alessandro Fucarini/PA images. All rights reserved.The letter sent by Prime Minister Renzi to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, together with the "Migration Compact" attached to it, shows a striking disregard for the objections recently raised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, by Human Rights Watch and by Amnesty International concerning the European policies promoted in this field.

It completely neglects the alleged illegitimacy of the agreement signed by the EU and Ankara and the true conditions of the migrants returned to Turkey, which the Erdogan's government is repatriating in large numbers (about a thousand in the past 6-7 months, including unaccompanied minors) sending them back to the war zones from where they originally ran away.

It keeps talking about a "migrant crisis" while, instead, it is clear that we are facing a refugees' crisis, and have been for many years. The letter of the Prime Minister, as well as the "non-paper" attached to it, completely omits any specific reference to the obligation of European Member States and Third countries to respect human rights and the principle of non-refoulement.

The lack of a specific reference to those principles is not surprising. The EU-Turkey agreement - even if it has been criticised by so many institutions and NGOs - is considered a positive, “innovative” example for future similar arrangements: it is a model that, according to Renzi, should be "further developed" and extended to other African countries, in particular to those which are part of the Khartoum and Rabat processes (among which States ruled by dictators such as Eritrea or Sudan).

The objective is to create a large-scale Euro-African partnership - nourished by pledges of EU financial assistance - with the aim of returning migrants and for the management of the external borders by Third countries, whether they are countries of origin or transit. 

Here, the 10 most worrying points of the Italian proposal:

1)    The disintegration of the Schengen area is presented as being exclusively caused by the "migration challenge", and not by the consecutive Action Plans and Statements adopted by the Commission and the Council, which proved to be unable to realise a European and international law-abiding asylum policy (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Geneva Convention);

2)    No reference is made to other geopolitical crisis, besides the Syrian one. The war in Afghanistan - which sees the uninterrupted involvement of the Italian government, and the lack of any parliamentary control over it - is not mentioned at all. No reference is made also to the chaos created by the intervention in Libya in 2011 and to the existing dictatorship in Eritrea, from which thousands of people are running away;

3)    The Central/Western Mediterranean route, through which the runaways reach Italy, is described as "composed mainly by economic migrants" without providing for reliable figures and while making arbitrary and wrong distinctions. This assessment is deeply questionable;

4)    The Italian government, in proposing the EU-Turkey agreement as a “model” for a readmission global plan, exhorts to analyse specific characteristics of the countries of origin and transit from where the runaways escape, without even remotely taking into account the human rights perspective including, in particular, the right to seek asylum in countries that respect those rights;

5)    The proposed great EU-Africa “compact” includes a global and indiscriminate police and judicial cooperation concerning the management of security along the borders of third countries, the "common fight" against traffickers, terrorism and drugs: the letter of Mr. Renzi mixes up issues that cannot be blended together;

6)    The scope of the proposal is only that of reducing irregular migration. It forgets to remind that all the refugees are, by definition, irregular migrants;

7)    It proposes a poorly defined constant European law enforcement presence in the Saharan belt (North Senegal, South Mauritania, Central Mali, North Burkina Faso, South Algeria, Niger, North Nigeria, South Sudan, Chad, North Eritrea) with the objective of cooperating with these countries in the field of internal and external security, without requiring them to abide by any international provision;

8)    As far as Libya is concerned, the proposal foresee a further development for the EUNAVFOR MED Sophia operation, and emphasises the need to help its still extremely weak government to deal with completely different challenges such as smuggling, trafficking, terrorism, "management of migration flows"; 

9)    The management of the "Migration Compact", proposed by the Renzi's government, is basically entrusted to the newly created European Border Guard. In this way, the tasks of Frontex are increased without considering the intrinsic deficiencies of a European Police Agency of this kind.

An Agency which deals with search and rescue operations at sea only in situations of extreme necessity and has shown its limits with regards to the full respect of the rights of refugees, by not granting them the right to judicial protection in the event of unlawful or collective expulsions (refoulement);

10)   In this framework, the brief allusion to legal migration opportunities - notably from an economic and demographic perspective - has a precise and highly limited meaning. These opportunities will arise only when the European companies will show an interest in employing workforce coming from third countries.

Here, the “non-paper” specifically refers to a European Council decision adopted in 1999 in Tampere: long before the beginning, in Europe, of the current dramatic refugee crisis. It is a remarkable gimmick: we are going back to the nineties pretending that the present-time simply doesn't exist. 

This article was originally published in Italian at Il Fatto Quotidiano

About the author

Barbara Spinelli is an Italian writer and journalist. She has been a columnist for Corriere della Sera, La Stampa and La Repubblica on issues of international and European politics. Since June 2014, she is member of the European Parliament in the GUE/NGL group. Her latest book is: "La sovranità assente" (Absent sovereignty), Einaudi 2014. She blogs at http://barbara-spinelli.it/.

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