EU: European Council on migration: documentation and reactions to the "summit of shame"

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European Council on migration: documentation and reactions to the "summit of shame"
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Documentation and reactions to the European Council meeting on 29-30 June, which the German NGO Pro Asyl referred to as the "summit of shame" after EU leaders agreed to further strengthening the Libyan Coast Guard and to "swiftly explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms". An editorial published by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, on the other hand, argues that although "nothing much has been decided," if one reads "between the lines of the European Council Conclusions there are some interesting developments – and not all negative."

Full documentation from the meeting can be found at the bottom of this article.

European Council, 28-29 June 2018: Conclusions (pdf) which on migration include:

"3. As regards the Central Mediterranean Route, efforts to stop smugglers operating out of Libya or elsewhere should be further intensified. The EU will continue to stand by Italy and other frontline Member States in this respect. It will step up its support for the Sahel region, the Libyan Coastguard, coastal and Southern communities, humane reception conditions, voluntary humanitarian returns, cooperation with other countries of origin and transit, as well as voluntary resettlement. All vessels operating in the Mediterranean must respect the applicable laws and not obstruct operations of the Libyan Coastguard."

This latter point would appear to be a veiled warning to the NGOs conducting search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, many of whom have had unpleasant encounters with the Libyan Coastguard. See, for example: Spanish rescuers 'told by Italy to stay away from dinghy in distress'(The Guardian, link)

The conclusions continue (emphasis added):

"4. ...Cooperation with, and support for, partners in the Western Balkans region remain key to exchange information on migratory flows, prevent illegal migration, increase the capacities for border protection and improve return and readmission procedures. In the light of the recent increase in flows in the Western Mediterranean, the EU will support, financially and otherwise, all efforts by Member States, especially Spain, and countries of origin and transit, in particular Morocco, to prevent illegal migration.

5. ...the European Council calls on the Council and the Commission to swiftly explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms, in close cooperation with relevant third countries as well as UNHCR and IOM. Such platforms should operate distinguishing individual situations, in full respect of international law and without creating a pull factor (...)

8. Tackling the migration problem at its core requires a partnership with Africa aiming at a substantial socio-economic transformation of the African continent building upon the principles and objectives as defined by the African countries in their Agenda 2063... This will not only require increased development funding but also steps towards creating a new framework enabling a substantial increase of private investment from both Africans and Europeans. Particular focus should be laid on education, health, infrastructure, innovation, good governance and women's empowerment. Africa is our neighbour and this must be expressed by increased exchanges and contacts amongst the peoples of both continents on all levels of civil society.

9. In the context of the next Multiannual Financial Framework, the European Council underlines the need for flexible instruments, allowing for fast disbursement, to combat illegal migration. The internal security, integrated border management, asylum and migration funds should therefore include dedicated, significant components for external migration management.

10. The European Council recalls the need for Member States to ensure the effective control of the EU's external borders with EU financial and material support. It also underlines the necessity to significantly step up the effective return of irregular migrants. In both respects, the supportive role of FRONTEX, including in the cooperation with third countries, should be further strengthened through increased resources and an enhanced mandate. It welcomes the intention of the Commission to make legislative proposals for a more effective and coherent European return policy.

11. Concerning the situation internally in the EU, secondary movements of asylum seekers between Member States risk jeopardising the integrity of the Common European Asylum System and the Schengen acquis. Member States should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end."

Regarding point 10, new legislative proposals will presumably start where the Commission's March 2017 recommendation on "making returns more effective" left off. See:Member States enthusiastic about Commission's "how low can you go?" deportation recommendations (Statewatch News Online, 5 April 2017) and: New 'Return Handook' to assist Member States in bypassing human rights safeguards in migrant removals(27 September 2017)

One concrete measure approved by the meeting was "how to finance an additional €3 billion for the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey to support Syrian refugees." See: Facility for refugees in Turkey: member states agree details of additional funding (pdf)

Reaction and comment

Pro Asyl called the meeting the "summit of inhumanity" (link) and condemned the proposal to increase cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard and returning rescued persons to North Africa. The organisation's Managing Director, Günter Burkhardt, called the moves an "attack on the right to asylum and the European Convention on Human Rights."

The Migreurop network (of which Statewatch is a member) remarked prior to the meeting that:

"European states are therefore reduced to seeking a vile consensus on how and where to send back those who arrive by sea, on what sort of camp to imprison them in, and how to speed up deportations without procedural guarantees. The main decision-makers dream that an apparently stabilised Libya could play a buffer role with greater discretion than that currently displayed by its militia and border guards, who are most definitely supported by the EU, but whose abusive behaviour is too disorderly to serve as “model” cooperation."

ECRE noted in an editorial (link) that the conclusions were "not all negative" and that the apparent "move towards European strategies and away from EU strategies – the coalition of the willing approach... is more efficient [and] it may also be the best way to preserve the right to asylum in Europe – for now." The article also underlines that (emphasis added):

"Indeed, the real agenda for the extremist/nationalist parties and governments is as much their anti-EU objectives as their futile battle against migration. These forces have an interest in maintaining the crisis: even as the numbers of arrivals in Europe fall, they continue to spout hysterically about terrorism and security and the end of the world. Fear and panic fuels their popularity among a small segment of the population. They use a sense of crisis to undermine the EU and to distract from their corruption and anti-democratic antics. The false notion that migration is the most serious security threat to Europe and that it is an existential threat to the EU is used to justify any measure, including those that undermine the rule of law and restrict civil society activity and other opposition, as well as the trend of illegal measures being proposed by interior ministers – the very people who are supposed to defend the rule of law."

The weekend following the European Council meeting, over 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean, including three babies. The IOM highlighted (link) that this brought the death toll in the Mediterranean during 2018 to over 1,000 people.

Documentation (pdfs)

European Council

European Council conclusions, 28 June 2018 concerning migration; security and defence; jobs, growth and competitiveness; innovation and digital; and other issues.

Background note

Facility for refugees in Turkey: member states agree details of additional funding

European Commission

The legal and practical feasibility of disembarkation options: follow-up to the informal working meeting of 24 June 2018

Managing migration: possible areas for advancement at the June European Council

Managing migration in all its aspects: Commission note ahead of the June European Council 2018

How the future asylum reform will provide solidarity and address secondary movements

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