Geneva – This year has not been easy for people on the move from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. The pandemic persisted, levels of forced displacement increased, structural problems in European immigration policy persisted with new disturbing proposals and crises, and European governments continued to violate people’s right to seek asylum. .
The first direct consequence of European immigration policies, mainly pushbacks and the lack of regular, accessible and safe routes to enter Europe, has been an increasing number of deaths at European borders. Asylum seekers and migrants who tried to access the EU last year in search of safety and dignity have struggled to simply survive.
In February, 12 people were found frozen to death on the Turkish border, victims of illegal Greek pushbacks and European inhuman political games trapping asylum seekers and migrants in neglected no-man’s lands.
In 2021, the number of those who arrived in Europe by land or sea and those who could not see a noticeable increase. The official number of arrivals by sea and land in frontline states is 123,318. Meanwhile, those who disappeared in the attempt are 3,231, double the previous year. In 2022, as of June 12, the number of people reaching Europe is 41,140, and around 742 people have already died or disappeared in just six months while trying to reach the European Union.
The negligence of the European institutions with regard to the protection of the life and death of asylum seekers and migrants is evident in the numerous policies implemented throughout the past year by the Member States of the EU, brutalize and discriminate against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The United Kingdom has intensified its long list of draconian and inhumane measures aimed at preventing small boats from crossing the English Channel, in particular with the recent agreement with the government of Rwanda, reached in April 2022, to transfer asylum seekers arriving in the UK and “outsource” asylum there.
The drive and efforts to outsource responsibility for asylum have seen a worrying development over the past year, with the European Commission itself proposing in February a status agreement in Senegal to deploy Frontex teams of permanent corps and technical equipment, based on the false premise of the fight against smuggling, but in reality as a new, stricter strategy of containing migration.
These outsourcing proposals are fueling a ruthless race to the bottom between governments in Europe, where success is measured by fewer arrivals rather than the level of integration and physical and mental well-being of refugees within the host society. On the contrary, refugees are often ignored or even openly subjugated.
Denmark has increasingly tightened its immigration policy and now has some of the most restrictive rules in Europe, aiming to have “zero asylum applications”. In September, for example, the Danish government offered to make refugee women work at least 37 hours a week. continue to receive social benefits. Meanwhile, they continue to spread misguided and discriminatory ideas about refugees and turn rights into privileges that must be earned and deserved.
Indeed, it is not a question of European government resources, but of stories and priorities. In December, in the middle of winter, Francethe Netherlands and Belgium makes asylum seekers sleep on the streets again, without unforeseen emergencies or massive arrivals, but clearly for structural problems that come back every year.
Meanwhile, in a growing number of EU countries, migrants and asylum seekers are treated like criminals and guinea pigs to test new invasive control and surveillance technologies that increasingly require their life and their body. In October, the Swiss Parliament authorized the State Secretariat for Migration to search the mobile phones of asylum seekers without proper consent or any suspicion of misrepresentation, as is already done in Germanyin Denmark and Norway, where asylum seekers are illegally treated as liars until proven guilty.
Asylum seekers in Europe have faced two additional critical situations over the past year and a half: the belarusian border crisis and the Ukrainian-Russian War.
The political standoff between Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and the EU itself has for months imprisoned migrants and asylum seekers amid impenetrable and deadly borders, treating them as mere geopolitical hostages, especially along the Polish-Belarusian border. This is also due to the illegitimate state of emergency imposed by Poland, preventing humanitarian actors from helping people in need in this area.
Ultimately, the Ukrainian refugee crisis in particular exposed a deeply rooted racist European policy that excludes and discriminates against non-European ethnicities, even in the midst of war. As a glaring example, until April 17, at least 45 black and brown migrants and asylum seekers remained trapped in Zhuravychi migrant detention center in Ukrainein the middle of a war zone, solely because of their irregular migration status.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a different ethical and political compass was lit towards the thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their homes, even in states ruled by nationalist governments historically reluctant to take in refugees. Denmark’s exemption of Ukrainian refugees from the controversial “jewelry law”, which still applied to asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa, and the opening of new medical clinics curing only Ukrainian refugees are two glaring examples of this double standard.
Throughout Europe, the war in Ukraine has even aggravated the systematic discrimination suffered by non-Ukrainian asylum seekers, particularly at the Serbian-Hungarian border, where the climate resembles a “migratory apartheid.”
To commemorate this year’s World Refugee Day, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor wishes to recall that while the European Commission rightfully stands with Ukrainian refugees, all other refugees are still on the move, lingering in limbo of growing cruelty, abandonment, and invisibility. They are routinely abused by law enforcement officials, subjected to intimidation and outright violence, physically driven from national territories and prevented from seeking international protection, mostly with impunity.
“Irregular asylum seekers do not exist. Irregulars are just the pathways for asylum seekers to come to Europe,” said Michela Pugliese, migration and asylum researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.
“European states should learn from how they responded to the war in Ukraine this year, remembering that anyone, anywhere can become an asylum seeker in need of protection. They should also always consider people’s free choice in their own lives, starting with where to go to seek asylum and settle, instead of just focusing on closing their borders and toughening immigration rules, which are literally ineffective measures for everyone.”