EU: French proposal on asylum cooperation with Turkey and Libya
Council document from the: French Delegation: Migration situation in the Mediterranean: establishing a partnership with migrants' countries of origin and of transit, enhancing Member States' joint maritime operations and finding innovative solutions for access to asylum procedures (pdf)
The basic thrust of the paper is to step EU cooperation with Libya and Turkey on asylum issues. But Libya has a dreadful record on human rights, and is itself a source of refugees fleeing persecution. It has not signed the UN Refugee Convention (the Geneva Convention), and in the words of the UNHCR, 'With the exception of Mauritania, no country [in North Africa] has adopted national refugee legislation or established comprehensive asylum procedures consistent with international standards.' [source: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e485f36]
Turkey is a long-standing major source of refugees fleeing persecution. It is often found in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights, in particular on issues of removal of asylum-seekers who face a threat of torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment in their countries of origin. Turkey also does not apply the Geneva Convention to refugees from countries outside Europe - it is almost alone in maintaining this limitation.
In light of these problems, the EU should not cooperate further with these countries on the sensitive issue of asylum unless their human rights record and asylum standards are dramatically improved. For example, the paper demands that the EU sign a readmission agreement with Turkey - but any non-European asylum-seeker has no chance to obtain fully-fledged refugee status there.
But for both countries, the French paper seeks to increase cooperation with immigration liaison officers, to give extra EU money for immigration control, encouraging those states to intercept refugees who have fled through those countries, and funding return flights from those states to refugees' countries of origin, 'while complying with their obligations as regards respect for the right to asylum'. But how much respect for the right to asylum does Libya have, in the absence of ratification of the Geneva Convention, or any national law or adequate national procedures relating to refugees? How much respect for the right to asylum does Turkey have, since it only accepts that right fully in respect of European refugees?
It would also give Frontex, an EU agency often criticised for its unaccountability and limited interest in refugee protection, control of the EU funds relating to maritime interceptions, whether in Member States' waters, the high seas, or even the territorial waters of Libya and Turkey. Frontex will also be in charge of return flights to these countries.
The French paper does suggest that for Libya, asylum-seekers intercepted at sea would have their claims examined in Libya by means of a special procedure run by the UNHCR and funded by the EU, or that Member States' consulates in Libya could apply common EU rules on asylum applications made there. It is possible that either or both of these solutions, if they could be carried out effectively in practice and could cover all asylum-seekers who transit via Libya, would ensure that all those asylum-seekers receive a fair hearing and that no-one is sent back to face torture or persecution. On the other hand, would applicants really have the same rights as within the EU? What conditions would they be held in? Would proper legal advice be available to them? Would there be NGOs on the ground to help them? If their application is refused who would monitor "voluntary" or forced returns - the Libyans?
But in the meantime, Member States are already cooperating with Libya extensively in the absence of anything resembling these safeguards.
French Delegation: Migration situation in the Mediterranean: establishing a partnership with migrants' countries of origin and of transit, enhancing Member States' joint maritime operations and finding innovative solutions for access to asylum procedures (pdf)
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