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Refugee crisis and Central and Eastern Europe: what solidarity do we need?

There is a disconnect between law and practice whereby the EU is continually reforming the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) but seems incapable of implementing it.

lead Ai Weiwei showing his installation with of a 70 meter long rubber boat with 280 larger-than-life figures of refugees hanging from the ceiling of the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic, 16 March 2017. Michael Heitmann/Press Association. All rights reserved. The CEE countries have in the past few years taken a very strong stance against refugees. They are not willing to host refugees – whether this involves the claim that these are people from different cultures or have different religions, or blaming the inadequate infrastructure and the fact that people do not want to come to these countries. There is a rise in negative public attitudes towards Muslims and other foreigners.

For instance: the Czech Republic systematically abuses migrants’ rights as part of a deterrent strategy. The number of detained migrants rose from a few hundred in 2013 to 8,500 in 2015. The Bulgarian police continues to “apprehend people who arrive, to fingerprint and detain them for deportation”. And there are an increasing number of reports of violent push-backs and collective expulsions from Bulgaria. Hungary has just passed a law that allows for automatic detention for all asylum seekers. Hungary has just passed a law that allows for automatic detention for all asylum seekers.

There is a direct connection between the stance taken towards migration and refugees and the rule of law crises in CEE countries, as migration flows have been used by rightwing populists to fuel and justify skepticism about human rights, the rule of law, and the EU legal order, and to block implementation of EU solidarity measures such as relocation.

The EU has been unwilling or unable to adequately defend its values (and sometimes laws) as regards migrants specifically, as well as the rule of law generally, and needs to take stronger positions on both. On numerous occasions the Commission should have started infringement proceedings and we are not seeing it happen. There is a disconnect between law and practice whereby the EU is continually reforming the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) but seems incapable of implementing it.

Member states show little willingness to improve their asylum systems and uphold human rights. With the overall dysfunctional Dublin Regulation, relocation and lack of resettlement places, the EU member states seem to compete with each other over who will attract less asylum seekers. With the overall dysfunctional Dublin Regulation, relocation and lack of resettlement places, the EU member states seem to compete with each other over who will attract less asylum seekers.

Looking at the solidarity mechanism, priority should be given to family re-unification, voluntary re-location and financial solidarity. Relocation needs to be to places where reception conditions can comply with human rights. The minimum that is needed is a correct implementation of the existing legislation – such as the current Dublin rules: first criteria should be family reunification – to send people forward to a country where they have a family, not just backwards to a first country of entry, as we are seeing today.

We should reflect on the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and his critique of the EU as well as of individual EU member states and his push for legal migration routes to Europe (Report from 2015). It was one of the first times that the UN human rights mechanisms have addressed the EU specifically. Francois Crepeau has said many times to the EU countries that territorial sovereignty cannot be protected at the expense of human rights. He has been calling for legal and safe routes for refugees (and economic migrants).

The Geneva refugee convention was enacted when no visa regimes were in place. It is based on a presumption that a person fleeing persecution can enter another country to seek protection. However if you look at the case of Syrians today, the only country that issues humanitarian visas to some of them is Brazil and only Sudan has no visa requirement for Syrians. Other than these, there is no legal way for Syrians to leave the country and seek protection. Even when crossing the border to Turkey, people are now being pushed back as a result of the EU-Turkey deal.

Therefore the current system, where refugees can get protection in Europe only when they reach European soil – and there is no legal and safe way to actually do so – pushes people into irregular ways to reach Europe, where their life and dignity are threatened. This fosters the smuggling and even trafficking of human beings.

People should come to Europe through regular channels rather than spend all their money on smugglers and risk their lives in this way. What solidarity responses do we need? Safe and legal channels: family reunification visas, resettlement, humanitarian visa, etc. People should come to Europe through regular channels rather than spend all their money on smugglers and risk their lives in this way.

Refugees and migrants lack access to political rights in Europe, which is one of the major reasons why they can be used as scapegoats by governments. This absence is the main reason for the lack of political will to pay any attention to their rights. Migrants and refugees should have the right to vote in local elections at least. Otherwise populist politicians can repeat all over again the same arguments and they will have find little opposing argument.

Francois Crepeau has also said that rights have never been fought for better than by people themselves, as in the case of those who fought for the rights of women or LGBTI. We should try to find ways to empower migrants to be able to fight for their rights.

The 2017 CEPS Ideas Lab – a key annual event on EU policy organised by the Brussels-based think tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies – asked how such core EU challenges as Rights & Security can be implemented with respect for the EU rule of law and fundamental rights. Cooperating with openDemocracy, we bring the resulting debates to this dedicated page.


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