October 30, 2013
The tragedy of October 3rd when 350 refugees from Eritrea carried by a shipwreck were chocked near Lampedusa in Sicily literally shocked the European Union. The President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso upon his visit in the area declared his “shock” in front of the coffins with the dead children. The media did so as well: “shock” everywhere across Europe. Like if everyone has completely forgotten that such phenomena happen regularly in the southern borders of the Union for over 30 decades, even in smaller scale.
The tragedy of Lampedusa is another part in the puzzle of thousands of people having lost their lives trying to find a better life. Official estimations are talking about over 20,000 people found dead in the sea over the past 20 years, in a frequent and popular sea route that transports and cruises cross in daily basis. This is a terrible evidence, an appalling performance for the European Union, for its border-monitoring bodies, its institutions, its decision-makers whatsoever.
The pending question is again what the European leaders are going to finally do, as it is a crucial issue that requires collective action. The root of this issue is inextricably correlated with EU’s Asylum Policy Framework and it is far more important than the public statements of “shock” by the side of the EU officials. The current legal process mandates that the arrested refugees should be handled by the European Union, but it is not clear what member-state or authority is entitled to do so. Countries like Italy, Malta, and Greece that are obliged to guard costal areas that exceed their sea borders are in constant constrain each other as there is no supervisory body that can deal with it efficiently. Meanwhile, Frontex is entitled to protect refugees seeking asylum in the European Union, in accordance with the international public law, but in fact there are many times that Frontex exerts pressure against refugee-carrying ships that sail in international waters to turn back to their original destination, even if these destinations are conflict-affected countries, like Libya or Syria, and despite the fact that such a decision to push them back would further put refugees to the same danger and risk of exile a couple of weeks later.
In this context, despite the well-established right of refugees to seek asylum in the European Union, the current practice refrains asylum-seekers from being safeguarded and protected. Furthermore, there is an additional problem that contributes to the blurred framework of responsibilities inside the European Union: the policy of the member-states that are involved in the Mediterranean (i.e Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Cyprus) to cope with refugee flows in an exclusively nationwide scale and abstain from the implementation of an EU’s collective decision, which is, the enforcement of the role of Frontex. In this respect, there is also the group of countries of the North pointing out their big involvement in the structure and funding of Frontex all these years that the corps is running, adding their reserve to continue investing on border control and safety.
It goes without saying that EU’s Asylum Policy is a complete quagmire. And it is in this very field of cooperation that the democratic deficit of the Union is astonishingly unveiled. The European leaders should revisit the asylum policy and the Dublin II Regulation in order to establish an efficient burden-sharing mechanism for all member-states irregardless of their closeness in the heart of the problem. Frontex needs clearer roles, not more money. The axis of the South needs more cooperation, not money. And this mindset shift is definitely dependent to political decisions, not to financial regulations and quotas.Dimitris Rapidis