The EU’s new partnership with Third World countries, modelled on the controversial Turkey deal, and trust funds to limit migration and return refugees to their home countries, have little safeguards for human rights, argue Jessica Poh-Janrell and Andrea Stocchiero of CONCORD.

Jessica Poh-Janrell, is CONCORD expert on migration, policy coordinator for migration at CONCORD Sweden. Andrea Stocchiero, is CONCORD expert on migration, policy coordinator for migration at CONCORD Italy and policy officer at FOCSIV.

It has only been a year since 193 of the world’s leaders agreed on the 2030 Agenda, where they agreed to facilitate safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility and ensure full respect for human rights and humane treatment of migrants regardless of migration status, write Jessica Poh-Janrell and Andrea Stocchiero of CONCORD.

Since then, more people than ever have been forced to leave their homes. At the same time, right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric has whipped up xenophobia and fear of refugees and migrants, for example ahead of the Brexit vote and now in the run up to the French election. With a world in turmoil, it is more important than ever that the leaders of Europe step up and show the world their real commitment to achieve the 2030 Agenda and to stand up for international solidarity and everyone’s human rights.

The summit this week (15 December) is the opportunity for our leaders to change direction, but instead the EU, together with its member states, are making one deal after another with countries many of whom have very bad human rights records. The intentions are all the same: keeping people out or sending them back. Along the way, peoples’ human rights and right to protection are being ignored.

EU deals’ ‘blind spots’

At the summit, member states will discuss the implementation of the EU’s new Partnership Framework with third countries. This most recent EU’s migration policy instrument, inspired by the EU-Turkey deal, was initiated in June 2016. Through the Partnership Framework Agreement, countries such as Ethiopia, Niger, and Mali, are expected to implement the EU’s migration policies with a particular focus on the readmission of their citizens and potentially of persons that have crossed their territory.

Concretely, this means that Somali or Eritrean refugees could be deported to Ethiopia, and from there, back to their home countries, where they could face prison or death. The agreement also includes extensive support for border management, with little guarantees for respect for human rights. Countries who cooperate will be rewarded, using aid as an incentive. Those who do not will face consequences. This type of conditionality on aid is unacceptable and goes against the core principles of development cooperation.

During the summit, member states will also evaluate the effectiveness of the EU-Turkey deal; the agreement between the EU and Turkey aiming to stop the arrival of refugees into Europe in exchange for aid funds and a promise to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens within the EU. This deal was pushed through, despite concerns that Turkey is not a safe country for refugees and in spite of testimonies from human rights organisations that Turkish authorities pushed thousands of people back into Syria.

The deal was also launched as a key strategy to prevent people from dying in the Mediterranean Sea, whilst trying to reach Europe. Instead, we have seen 4,690 deaths in 2016 alone, which is 1000 more deaths than during the same period in 2015. The EU-Turkey deal has also led to 60.000 people being stranded in Greece in closed detention centers or places such as warehouses or abandoned buildings. Conditions are much worse than any humanitarian standards prescribe.

In this context, the EU has also recently made a deal with Afghanistan to speed up the readmission and (forced) return of Afghani citizens in Europe. This agreement has serious flaws; the most obvious one is that Afghanistan is not a safe country. The Taliban now control more territory countrywide than at any point since the fall of their regime back in 2001, almost all of Afghanistan’s provinces are experiencing armed conflict and nearly one million people are already today living as internally displaced people within the country.

The European Commission’s own humanitarian department (ECHO) has also raised alarms over the increased insecurity due to fighting between government forces and armed groups and warns in a report that Afghanistan is now in an acute humanitarian crisis with 245,000 people fleeing their homes just this year. Despite this, European governments have pushed through the deal to send people back without any apparent reservations.

It is time for our leaders to take a stand and to show the world that Europe will stand up for everyone’s’ human rights.

Five steps European leaders should take for a humane and decent approach to migration:

  • Respect international conventions on human rights, including the right to asylum and establish a regulatory framework to ensure safe, regular pathways for asylum seekers and migrants to deliver EU commitments under the 2030 Agenda.
  • Adhere to UN’s International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (approved by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1990).
  • Ensure an evidence-based migration strategy, which takes into account the stark increase of deaths at sea on the central Mediterranean route in 2016.
  • Ensure that return of any migrant is conducted in safety, dignity and with respect for human rights and give special attention to women and children.
  • Development funding should be used to lift people out of poverty, in support of developing countries’ long-term strategies, instead of using it increasingly to keep people out of Europe at all cost, and threatening to withdraw funding if third countries do not comply.