What evolution of asylum policies in European countries since 2015?
The coronavirus effect on European migration policyAlain Le Cléac'h, Member of the Board of Directors of France terre d'asile
The coronavirus effect on European migration policy
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed migration, like many other issues, into the background. Everything changed with the need for lockdown. What has happened to the reception and support of migrants?
Tomorrow the country, the entire planet, will emerge from this unprecedented event which has highlighted the fragility of humanity and its global organization. What will happen to migratory issues that will obviously not have disappeared?
It is too early to assess the impact on the economy, the social and political organization of states, international structures, in a word the organization of the world. As if hit by an asteroid, the planet will be shaken.
Rehabilitation of borders and state sovereignty
Let us already try to think what will be the impact for the notion of territory, which has enabled States to implement strategies for the protection and care of populations.
The pandemic ruined the hopes of those who dreamed of free movement and equal rights for all in a peaceful world. The response to such a deadly attack has shown the need for territorial, structured and sovereign organizations. State authority appeared essential to implement the provisions for the protection of populations. The European Union has shown its limits in this area. Its degree of integration excludes any authority in the health field. The principle of subsidiarity has been applied without any need for debate. Europe has emerged for what it is, an economic and financial organization which played its role of paymaster but hardly went any further.
The fight against the virus has been organized at state level, but once the crisis is over, international organisations and cooperation will be needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Whether they are of a health, climate or environmental nature, it is at the global scale that solutions will be found to anticipate these crises or to prevent them from occurring again.
The border is not a wall but a door
So what will happen to migratory movements in the world of tomorrow? Migrations are a component of the world’s disorders that nations have to face. The health crisis has reaffirmed the need for borders. Yet, when it comes to migrations, they are not a problem per se. Just as in a house, the obstacle is not the door but rather the degree of hospitality – the opening of the door – which makes the house more or less welcoming.
The temptation of withdrawal and protectionism
When facing danger, the reflex is to protect oneself and to keep one’s family and loved ones safe. This is natural. The time has come to be concerned about others. Would the foreigner, the migrant be excluded?
Didn’t we see the doors close down to asylum seekers in the early days of the lockdown?
From March 17, 2020, the French State suspended effective access to asylum, claiming that its services could no longer receive asylum seekers for health reasons. This is a very casual attitude towards a fundamental right, but a grave failure when we know that the registration of the asylum application allows access to healthcare, a survival allowance and sometimes accommodation. On April 30, 2020, the Council of State ordered the Ministry of the Interior to resume the registration of asylum applications, with priority given to people with particular vulnerabilities.
Haven’t the difficulties for unaccompanied foreign minors increased to the point that a group of lawyers and associations sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, on April 6, 2020, calling for binding measures to ensure the protection of unaccompanied children in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The exclusion and abuse of migrants are of the same nature as economic protectionism, which has always led only to recession and nationalism. It is solidarity, or rather fraternity, that brings people together. As we have seen during this crisis, when it comes to joining forces, origin is of little importance. We even went to look for refugees to collect the crops that were in danger of rotting in the fields.
What European migration policy after the health crisis?
So what migration policy for France tomorrow? Will it be in line or at odds with that of Europe? Will the European Union get out of the structural deadlock that prevents any outcome to the negotiations on solidarity between EU states or on the evolution of fundamental issues such as the reform of the Dublin Regulation? Will we have to abandon all hope of an agreement among the 27 States and organize a specific treaty for voluntary progressive and humanist countries as suggested by Enrico Letta, President of the Jacques Delors Institute, in late 2019?
Will the COVID-19 be the alibi for the externalisation of European migration policy?
The concept of externalization, which consists of blocking migrants in a third country on the migration route in agreement with that country, is not new. It was imagined by the rich and developed countries of destination on a commercial basis. The third country is initially a transit country, already concerned by the presence of migrants on its territory. It is a developing country that has a political and economic interest in making deals with the country of destination .
The most emblematic agreement of this bargaining process is the one that led the leaders of the European Union to sign a “declaration”, similar to a pact, with Turkey on March 18, 2016. In return for the detention of migrants (mainly Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country), the European Union committed to pay Turkey the sum of 6 billion Euros in two payments for dealing with migrants. It also agreed to resume the discussions initiated to promote Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Four years after this agreement, Syrians are still more numerous in Turkey. Bashar El Assad is still at the head of a largely destroyed country. The vast majority of the Syrian population is either displaced within their own country or exiled, mainly to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon.
The European Union sought for a long time to implement incentive policies to contain migration flows through transit countries. The Hague Programme of 2004 was designed to promote the development of the capacity of the EU neighbours to receive migrants. That’s how Morocco is actively involved in controlling the south-western border of the European area.
In the central Mediterranean, Libya serves as a containment zone for migrants arriving from sub-Saharan Africa. For years, they have been embarking on overloaded dinghies to reach the Italian coast. For years, the Mediterranean has swallowed up thousands of men, women and children without Europe having seen any utility in the organization of a long-term surveillance and rescue at sea operation for these desperate people. Although the operation Mare Nostrum has been deployed, NGOs that were trying to intervene to ensure respect for maritime law and by mere display of humanity have been criminalized.
Worst still, Italy, with the implicit endorsement of the European Union, signed with the government of Fayez al-Sarraj the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding on migration between Italy and Libya on February 2, 2020. In complete violation of fundamental rights and of the Geneva Convention, Italy assists, trains and equips the Libyan coastguards who intercept boats and escort migrants to detention camps on Libyan soil where living conditions are notoriously inhuman.
Libya and its oil fields were under Gaddafi’s reign a focal point for young men from sub-Saharan Africa. And Niger, a rather safe and stable country in the region, served as a place of transit and gathering for the endless crossings of overloaded pick-up trucks that crossed the desert to reach Tripoli.
After the fall of Gaddafi, the civil war and the shutdown of the Libyan economy, road traffic continued but this time to transport the asylum seekers to Europe. In order to close this route, the European Union organized a Euro-African summit in November 2015 in Valletta with the aim to coordinate the closure of migrant transit routes and the detention of Africans in their countries of origin. An Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has been set up with a budget of 4.2 billion Euros, the main beneficiary being Niger.
Despite the efforts of UNHCR and the local authorities, parallel transit routes have opened up. Nothing has changed except that the dangerousness of the pathways has increased. In Libya the situation of migrants is horrendous: there are about 663,000 of them according to the International Organization for Migration. The UNHCR has only been able to register 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers and too few countries have volunteered to receive them within the framework of resettlement programmes.
That is also the consequence of the detention of migrants in Europe’s peripheral countries.
The health crisis will undoubtedly be a new pretext for continuing along the path of externalization. It is even likely that Europe will wish to justify the concept by integrating it, as suggested by Jérôme Vignon, advisor at the Jacques Delors Institute , into the Regional Arrangements of the Global Framework for Action for Refugees that is part of the Global Compact for Migration .
Externalization is a denial of rights that condemns migrants and their children to a life of misery and without prospects in a country they have not chosen
Let us take a closer look at the situation of the Syrians detained in Turkey since the agreement with the European Union. To date, there are more than three million six hundred thousand Syrians and many of them have been there for almost 10 years. They do benefit from a special status, a temporary protection modelled on the European Directive planned for a massive influx of migrants, but they live in miserable conditions with no hope – nor, no doubt, will – of integration in this country. As of January 1, 2019, only 32,200 Syrians had been granted work permits and less than 80,000 had obtained Turkish nationality .
They wanted to come to Europe, they wanted to work, to study, to educate their children and, for the vast majority, to return to their country, to rebuild it and to live there in peace under a democratic regime. Tomorrow they will probably be forced to return to a militarized enclave in the north-east of their country around Idlib. This seems to be the will of President Erdogan, who is facing growing opposition from the Turkish population towards refugees.
The externalization of European migration policy is also that.
What can we expect from the European Union?
If the European Union survives the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis, it will have to keep the topic of migration on its agenda, the scale and seriousness of which will not have diminished. The chances of a global agreement on progress on this issue are minimal. It would therefore be necessary to set up a group of volunteer countries. The aim will be to build a project in partnership with the countries of origin and transit that preserves the interests of each party without the conditionality of a repressive migration policy, as is the case today in so-called cooperation agreements. European countries will have to receive their share of migrants, organize their basic training if necessary and vocational training according to the needs of the host and origin countries. Indeed, the solution will probably be to organize circular and temporary migration that meets the labor needs of European countries and the needs of qualified personnel and entrepreneurs in the countries of origin.
Is this a utopian vision? Perhaps, but also a pragmatic one. Because nobody has any interest in chaos even when it concerns its neighbourhood. It will be in everyone’s interest that the disorders of the world find solutions. Forced migration is a major disorder, a humanitarian catastrophe. It represents a high level of violence of which we are still not sufficiently aware.
 Rodier Claire. “Externaliser la demande d’asile”, Plein droit, 2015/2 (n° 105), p. 10-13, https://www.cairn.info/revue-plein-droit-2015-2-page-10.htm
 Vignon Jérôme. “La crise sanitaire n’effacera pas la crise migratoire”, 07/04/2020, https://institutdelors.eu/publications/la-crise-sanitaire-neffacera-pas-la-crise-migratoire/
 The Global Compact for Migration, adopted on 11 December 2018 in Marrakech by 162 States, aims to define and impose a set of best practices at international level for safe, orderly and regular migration.
 H. Magba Merly. “Réfugiés: quand l’Europe se déleste sur la Turquie”, 24/05/2017, https://www.revue-projet.com/articles/2017-05_magba_refugies_quand_leurope_se_deleste_sur_la_turquie/8244