Europe: Sending back the asylum seekers
European leaders were so smug in their condemnation of President Trump’s ban on migrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries, said Frédéric Bobin and Jean-Pierre Stroobants in Le Monde (France). “We don’t believe in walls or bans,” EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini proclaimed piously. Yet right now, the European Union is constructing a virtual wall against refugees. Having blocked one major migration route to Europe through last year’s deal with Turkey—under which Turkey agreed to house asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere in exchange for cash and other perks—the EU is now cutting off a second key route. At a meeting in Malta this month, the bloc agreed to pay some $210 million to the Libyan government to seize and turn back the boats full of migrants that sail from its shore. Those desperate migrants, most from North Africa, are to be herded back into squalid camps inside Libya, where in theory their asylum claims will be assessed. It’s a farce. “How can Libya evaluate refugee status when it is not even a signatory to the Geneva Conventions?” Worse, the Libyan government exists “only on paper,” so its camps are run by militias. Refugees there are at risk of violence, rape, and starvation.
“The human rights situation in Libya is truly catastrophic,” said the Malta Independent (Malta) in an editorial, and it is unconscionable that Europe would condemn people to rot there. “Hypothetically, blocking people in Libya would prevent them from drowning” as they try to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, Doctors Without Borders tweeted. “In reality, it would condemn them to slow death.” Yet Europe has chosen to “shrink into a state of protectionism”— just like Trump’s America.
That’s because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is desperate, said Silke Kersting in Der Handelsblatt (Germany). Germany took in nearly 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 and some 300,000 more last year, and the backlash is growing. “Uncontrolled immigration must be stopped to prevent a further strengthening of right-wing populism in Europe.” This year will see elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and all three countries have strong and growing far-right parties. Already, Merkel has changed her rhetoric from welcoming to stern, said The Times (U.K.). “For the next few months, what matters most is repatriation, repatriation, and more repatriation,” she said last week. She has set up deportation centers near airports, to quickly process and deport new arrivals who don’t qualify for asylum. To those who arrived in the human flood of 2015 and have little chance of qualifying, Merkel is offering cash incentives to self-deport.
Some migrants must go, certainly, said Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). But a policy that focuses solely on deportation “will have bitter consequences.” Europe must remember the golden rule: “Are we treating these people as we would like to be treated if we ourselves were refugees?” Clearly, condemning asylum seekers to Libyan hellholes fails that test.