Germany: Schily lobbies for "external processing centres"

The proposal to create detention and holding centres for refugees and migrants outside the EU (eastern Europe, Africa, Turkey and the Middle East) is probably one of the most far-reaching of proposed strategies to control immigration and limit refugee protection in the EU through procedural measures.

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Although initially proposed by the Labour government in 2003 (in its euphemistically entitled paper New vision for refugees), the idea was in fact truly "European", with a Commission paper promoting the idea in June this year and subsequently promoted by Rocco Buttiglione, EU Commissioner for the Directorate-General for "Justice, Freedom and Security". The plans were revived by Germany and Italy at the informal JHA meeting in Scheveningen in September.

As Statewatch pointed out in July, the "processing centre" proposal has not followed the regular procedure of policy development, where the European Commission should produce a "Green paper", set out policy options and consult parliaments, interest groups and NGOs:

In this case...the Commission has taken-up the UK proposals, apparently only consulted third parties with an interest in implementing these proposals, and begun working on an ad hoc operational project using EU funds to undertake actions in third countries. It clearly did not consult the same expert opinion as the UK House of Lords, whose recent report: "Handling EU asylum claims: new approaches examined" (published on 30 April 2004) identified "a number of drawbacks" in the UK and UNHCR proposals, and recommended instead that "better quality decision-making in the Member States [is] the key to an effective determination process" (Statewatch Analysis June 2004)

Furthermore, there is a striking lack of legal clarity in the proposals, also reflected at the national level. When Schily promoted the "external processing" concept in the interior committee (Innenausschuss) of the lower house of parliament at the end of September, he was still not able to clarify what these processing centres would look like and on which legal basis they would operate: he was unable to answer questions as to whether they were detention centres or bureaus, if German or EU officers would be operating in them and what rights migrants and refugees would actually have. One thing, however, was clear: "those seeking protection do not always have to find it in Europe", (Schily after the meeting of 29 September). In July this year, Buttiglione, former European Affairs Minister in Berlusconi's government, revealed the underlying motivation behind the plans by claiming that the EU was being "swamped" by immigrants, a rhetoric traditionally used by far-right politicians (see Statewatch News Online, 23.8.04).

At the national level, the so-called "Schily refugee plans" are being criticised by members of the Social Democrats coalition partner (Green party) and the opposition for undermining asylum rights and lacking legal clarity respectively. Although Schily was unable to present united support for the plans at the European level, the parliamentary dispute is unlikely to block the plans. The EU Commission has already started negotiations with Morocco, Libya and Egypt to introduce refugee centres and the plans were discussed at an informal Justice and Home Affairs Ministers meeting in Scheveningen (Netherlands) on 30 September and 1 October. The bi-annual informal meetings serve to reach political agreement on future EU policies. Backed by interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu, the Schily plans were received with similar reservations with regard to the vagueness of the proposals. One EU diplomat complained: "Everything is up in the air. It would be good for once to clarify what everyone is talking about. So far all we've seen are press reports". Diedrik Kramers, UNHCR spokesman in Brussels, commented: "What are we talking about? Information centres for immigrants? Centres to examine asylum seekers? To repatriate people intercepted at sea?"

However, most commentators do not oppose the idea of Regional Protection Programmes per se, which the Commission has pledged to introduce by July 2005 in consultation with the UNHCR. The principle remains the same: avert migration into Europe and keep refugee movements within their region of origin, a policy shift that migration scholar Alec Shacknove identified 10 years ago as a move "from asylum to containment". Although these centres already exist in countries bordering the EU, they will now be integrated into the EU's asylum system and, as Amnesty International warns, relieve EU states of their duty to assess asylum claims individually and endanger the lives and rights of thousands of refugees and migrants.

Although Amnesty particularly criticises the location of the camps in Libya and Tunisia, the EU agreed under pressure from Italy in September to lift an 18-year-old arms embargo, in order to cooperate with Libya to take measures against illegal immigration. The Baltic states and Austria recently called on Ukraine to create camps to handle Chechen asylum seekers heading west, but Kiev has so far refused.
The process of negotiating with third countries in this regard is taking place under the aegis of the EU's "regional and country strategy papers" which cover relations with developing countries in all policy areas and which typically use aid and trade measures as a leverage to enforce EU interests.

Süddeutsche Zeitung 30.9.04; 29.9.04; Commission Communication on "Improving access to durable solutions", COM(2004)410, 4.6.04; Statewatch analysis

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