Legitimate Border Controls and Amalgams
External border control is a legitimate concern of any State or group of States. Cross-border crime and drug trafficking illustrate the need for controls. At the same time, the European Union aims to be a place of exchanges with countries on the other side of the Mediterranean, i.e. the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures. We – Europeans – have no difficulty in going to, say Egypt or Morocco in order to participate in a seminar or a youth exchange. But have you ever tried to get an Egyptian or Moroccan artist or young person over, for the same purpose? Expectations, disappointments and rejection are usually on the agenda because of the general suspicion of nationals from those countries.
Being an ageing continent, the EU must pursue immigration policies. However, the EU devotes more resources to preventing immigration and does not possess enough political will and imagination to develop a common immigration policy.
All defenders of human rights must denounce the confusion between illegal immigration and the fight against crime. It should be remembered that the right to leave one’s country is a fundamental right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and therefore any person who leaves his/her country and turn up at the EU borders must be considered and treated as a human being.
In this context, the fight against cross-border crime cannot use the same instruments as those used for the control of illegal immigration and for the reception of asylum seekers.
Member States of the EU have signed the Geneva Convention and are therefore obliged to ensure an asylum procedure worthy of the name. It often seems that they focus more on preventing asylum seekers from entering their territory than on providing access to a procedure.
A panoply of repressive methods or a policy in line with EU values
The question is whether the current EU policies will meet the needs, create new problems or correspond to the values the EU upholds.
Initiatives like Eurosur, the Entry-Exit system (EES) and the Registered Traveller Programme (RTP) clearly show a willingness to act. This activism runs the risk of overwriting the necessary precautions with regard to human rights and of ignoring policies on asylum and immigration.
Rather than trying to cover the entire issue on one page, let’s raise a few questions:
What are the reasons behind the Eurosur, EES and RTP policies? On what basis, studies and analysis are they based?
The huge database created by its tools of control will quickly come to include information on tens of millions of citizens coming into the European Union in order to detect those who have exceeded the usual three months (with or without visa). But what of those with a three month residence permit who fall ill and cannot go back in time? Will they be hunted down by Interpol the very next day?
If a boat carrying irregular migrants is identified in the Mediterranean and is taken on by the EU authorities, those on board will be saved (following the age-old tradition of rescues at sea, since codified by the International Maritime Organisation). But what fate awaits those who are saved? Will they be sent without any hesitation back to the Libya of yesteryear, today’s Turkey or a Syria engulfed in flame?
Military vessels made available to Frontex by Member States have a special status – not only do they have complete immunity, they are also a part of the national territory. People picked up on these vessels should therefore benefit fully from the legislation in force in those countries and in particular they should benefit from rights relative to refugees. Vessels participating in a Frontex operation should not only be explicitly obliged to rescue migrants in peril, but should also be obliged to consider those rescued as having entered on their national territory. Nevertheless, do these people have access to all available and required procedures that exist in the national state?
The Fundamental Rights Agency – a useful instrument of the EU – is unfortunately not mandated to assume the role of monitoring and evaluating compliance with human rights. In the context of the policies in question, should we not change the mandate of the Agency and make it a real independent authority in accordance with the Paris Principles?
Debate remains open. And our values – values cast in stone in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – remain.
AEDH : Press release Eurosur: “When border control takes precedence over migrants’ lives” – 20 June 2012, http://www.aedh.eu/Eurosur-When-border-control-takes.html
Heinrich-Böll “Borderline – The EU’s new border surveillance initiatives: assessing the costs and fundamental rights implications of EUROSUR and the ‘Smart Borders’ Proposals” - 6 July 2012
AEDH : NGOs joint letter to MEPs on the proposal for a regulation to establish Eurosur – 9 July 2012
AEDH : Joint letter to MEPs on Eurosur – 3 September 2012, http://www.aedh.eu/NGO-joint-letter-to-MEPs-on.html