Mediterranean journeys in hope

Scholars support UN Refugee Global Compact: open letter

The EU is creating an ever-growing population of illegally detained refugees, including vulnerable men, women and children, who are forced to live in appalling conditions and without recourse to justice. 

ESRC Mediterranean migration research programme researchers
10 May 2016


Sub-Saharan migrants climb over a metallic fence that divides Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, 2014. Santi Palacios /Press Association. All rights reserved.We welcome the report by the UN Secretary General In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and support its recommendation to create a Global Compact for Refugees. It is only through such collective support that effective protection may be achieved.

The report affirms that all migrants are entitled to the respect, protection and full enjoyment of their human rights under core international human rights treaties, regardless of their human rights status and emphasises the need to protect migrants en route, at sea and at borders. Our research on migratory routes and experiences records the precarious journeys refugees undertake in order to reach a place of safety. We note that some nine out of ten migrants never cross the Mediterranean and that the world’s refugee populations are largely contained in poor states in the Middle East and Africa. Hence, we emphasise the obligation of European states to develop a more humanitarian response to the ‘crisis’.

The report also calls upon states to fund data collection for future migration planning, to protect human rights and to advance inclusion. Our research bears out the importance of data collection for the development of sound policy as well as the need for further research on migration. We note that while the UNHCR and its partners have sought to coordinate the provision of aid and assistance to refugees fleeing Syria, within the European Union there has been an absence of joined up thinking, which has undermined the protection of migrants’ rights for all to see.

We share the Secretary General’s condemnation of the policy of erecting fences and walls and criminalising migrants. As our research has shown, the vast majority of arrivals to the European Union are people who have fled war and conflict zones and are in urgent need of safety and international protection. The mobility controls that have been erected across much of Europe simply reinforce vulnerability by creating spaces of destitution as we have seen in Calais and elsewhere, situations which never should have been allowed to develop. Rather than promote responsibility sharing, these repressive controls reinforce a beggar-thy-neighbour logic within Europe and shift responsibility onto neighbouring countries such as Greece and Italy — a point criticised by the Secretary General, and with which we concur.

Many commentators have suggested that pull factors including generous benefits are attracting migrants to our shores. Our research found virtually no evidence in support of this view. Having collectively undertaken over 1,000 interviews we can attest that motives for migration are much more complicated and cannot be neatly categorised in a migrant-refugee distinction. Above all, it is the absence of safety and a viable future which encourages people to flee. In order to qualify for refugee status, an individual must demonstrate that they have an objective claim of persecution and are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of protection in their home state. Such persecution may be structural and aimed at particular nationalities, ethnic groups and religious communities. However, pockets of repression exist everywhere and individuals may also suffer persecution even if they are coming from so-called ‘safe’ states.  For this reason, it is essential that asylum claims are dealt with in a non-discriminatory manner. We need an adaptable, open and fair system of asylum.

In this context, we share the concerns raised by many human rights commentators and organisations regarding two worrying developments in particular. Firstly, the implementation of an agreement reached between the EU and Turkey, which includes forced collective returns, is neither lawful nor in compliance with the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights. Moreover, Turkey maintained the geographical reservation to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention which limits refugee status to those fleeing Europe and cannot be considered a ‘safe third country.’

Secondly, the newly established ‘hotspots’, a far-reaching mechanism of direct EU-level intervention and administration at the local level, which also includes closed reception centres to which humanitarian organisations and lawyers are refused entry, often leave individuals without access to rights to asylum. In effect, the EU is creating an ever-growing population of illegally detained refugees, including vulnerable men, women and children, who are forced to live in appalling conditions and without recourse to justice.

We support the Secretary General’s call to states to find solutions for refugees including providing resettlement spaces and other legal pathways for admission. This is what responsibility sharing means in practice. Our research has found that the current system of reception is failing, in spite of the efforts of UNHCR, the ICRC and their partners. In many reception centres conditions remain sub-standard, and in those centres that do allow non-state actors access, the efforts of local support networks often stand in where a multitude of institutional actors fail.

Moreover, our research indicates that people on the move feel compelled to undertake risky journeys in the absence of legal routes, with many suggesting that they do not have any other option under current conditions. We affirm the British government’s commitment to identifying and protecting vulnerable refugee children, wherever they are. In this context, we welcome the British government’s decision to admit more unaccompanied child refugees from within the European Union and trust that they will move swiftly to provide the protection these children urgently need.

However, we also emphasise that more needs to be done in order to open up safe and legal migratory channels, in order that the tragedies repeatedly witnessed over the past several years do not become a normality of our time.


Near Idomeni, Greek banner reads, "Against the Europe fortress, let's demolish borders and fences." Giannis Papanikos / Press Association. All rights reserved.

Dr Dia Anagnostou, ELIAMEP, Greece

Dr. Leonie Ansems de Vries, King’s College London, UK

Dr. Alessio d’Angelo, Middlesex University, UK

Martin Baldwin-Edwards, Middlesex University, UK

Professor Brad Blitz, Middlesex University, UK

Professor Sue Clayton, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK
Professor Heaven Crawley, University of Coventry, UK

Dr. Angeliki Dimitriadi, ELIAMEP

Dr. Franck Duvell, University of Oxford, UK
Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci, People for Change Foundation, Malta

Professor Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London
Dr. Elisabeth Kirtsoglou, University of Durham, UK
Professor Eleonore Kofman, Middlesex University, UK

Dr. Daniel Knight, University of St. Andrews, UK
Dr Iosif Kovras, City University London, UK

Dr. Steve Lyon, University of Durham, UK.

Dr. Nicola Montagna, Middlesex University, UK

Dr. Simon Parker, University of York, UK

Professor Joe Painter, University of Durham, UK

Dr Ferruccio Pastore, FIERI, Italy

Dr. Stavroula Pipyrou, University of St. Andrews, UK.

Dr. Maria Pisani, University of Malta

Dr. Simon Robins, University of York, UK

Dr. Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham, UK

Dr. Vicki Squire, University of Warwick, UK

Dr. Dallal Stevens, University of Warwick, UK

Professor Giorgos Tsimouris, Panteion University Athens, Greece
Professor Nick Vaughan-Williams, University of Warwick, UK

Dr. Antonis Vradis, University of Durham, UK

Professor Eyal Weizman, Goldsmiths, Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK


To arrange an interview with members of the group please contact Simon Wesson, Press and Communications Officer, email: [email protected], telephone: 01793 413122.

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