Like ill-prepared pupils before a crucial exam, European leaders pulled a late-night session, long into the early hours Friday morning, to hammer out a migration deal that is vague, messy, and possibly undeliverable, as it relies on reluctant states to voluntarily comply with its terms.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a major political crisis over her migration policies at home and her far-right foes positioned to create an axis with sympatico leaders in rabidly anti-refugee governments in Italy and Austria, the agreement is far more about political solvency than the thousands of desperate people from Africa and Asia risking their lives to reach safer shores in Europe.
Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland have long refused to take asylum seekers, with the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban saying at the start of the talks that the migrant “invasion” of Europe should be stopped, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying his country would continue to refuse migrants seeking to settle within its borders.
The terms of the agreement, which will be carried out by European states “on a voluntary basis,” include:
- Continuing to tighten external borders with Turkey North African countries such as Libya.
- Member states will work to accelerate returns of those who have had their asylum requests rejected (or have volunteered to be returned).
- Lessening the “incentive” of those who try to come to Europe, not by addressing the reasons why the leave, but by sharing disembarkation responsibilities in a way that is in compliance with international law but in no way acts as a “pull” factor for migrants.
- Those who make it to the E.U. will be transferred to various “controlled centers” (locations to be determined), to be processed — some for refugee status, others for returns.
The agreement, struck under what one unnamed diplomat described to Reuters as a “toxic” atmosphere, will see the EU relying more heavily on the deals struck with the Turkish government, and (far more troubling) Libyan militia to curb the movement of migrants. Already, the number of people who have made it to Europe this year is minute compared to the peak of 2015.
As EU leaders were shaking hands over the loose agreement, a boat carrying over 120 migrants capsized off the coast of Libya. According to the Associated Press, most passengers are missing and three babies were confirmed among the dead. Reuters reported that only 14 survivors had been found.
While the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) has cautiously welcomed the deal, rights groups, such as Amnesty International, do not support the deal:
The new EU migration deal is dangerous and self-serving.
— amnestypress (@amnestypress) June 29, 2018
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 45,000 people have made it to Europe over sea routes so far this year. Nearly 1,000 are dead and missing, but that does not count those who have died while still on land routes or trapped in detention centers funded by the EU in Libya.
While those fleeing war, hunger, and oppression from countries such as Syria, Sudan, and Eritrea are proving to be a political crisis for the increasingly right-wing block of western European countries, others have refused to call it a refugee crisis.
Eugenio Ambrosi, IOMigration’s regional director for the European Union told ThinkProgress earlier this year that the numbers just don’t tell the story of a crisis: “If you look at the number of people who have arrived on, you are still talking… 0 something percent of the overall EU population of over half a billion people,” Ambrosi said, comparing the situation to the nearly 700,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh in matter of months.
The mishandling of the situation and the lack of a coherent refugee policy has turned the situation into a humanitarian crisis. Worse, this week’s agreement offers no framework or viable alternative that would prevent people from continuing to take the perilous sea routes to Europe.
Though the deal won’t be going into effect any time soon and its terms might be unenforceable, many still see it as a win, namely Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new deputy prime minister and interior minister. Salvini has, in recent weeks, shut down ports to rescue ships carrying refugees, including pregnant women and children.
“Finally Europe has been forced to discuss an Italian proposal… (and) finally Italy is no longer isolated and has returned to being a protagonist,” Salvini said in a statement.