- european commission,
- Fundamental rights,
- Human rights,
EU Interior ministers gathered on Monday 28 March for an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council to discuss further support for Ukrainian refugees. Left MEPs call for equal treatment of refugees across the EU as the war in Ukraine continues to dominate the agenda.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The first three letters form a short word which could make a huge difference if we chose to give it meaning: ALL.
According to the UN, more than 3.8 million people have now fled Ukraine, 2.2 million of whom have arrived in Poland. Romania, Slovakia and Hungary have all received hundreds of thousands of refugees, and around 380,000 have been recorded in Moldova.
The Left welcomes the EU member states’ agreement to take in war refugees from Ukraine quickly and without hindrance. In this way, administrative burdens will be eased, and people can be taken in and integrated quickly. Member states rightly asked the EU Commission to enact a directive “in the event of a “mass influx” of displaced persons”. The ruling, which has been in force since 2001, was adopted in the wake of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, granting protection for an initial period of one year, extendable to three. A lengthy asylum procedure is not necessary for protection status, but the right to apply for asylum continues to exist. At the same time, protection seekers are guaranteed minimum standards such as access to social assistance and a work permit. The directive seeks to avoid overwhelming the authorities responsible for asylum applications. The directive has been in place for over 20 years, yet this is the first time we see it applied – despite the large numbers of people fleeing war and persecution, particularly from Syria in 2015 and Afghanistan last summer.
And here we must confront what we mean when we say “all”.
Thousands of people have been dying at Europe’s borders for a long time. Most of them are fleeing war, persecution and misery. Had they arrived in Europe, many would have had a good chance of obtaining protection through the asylum procedure. But they die because of an asylum policy that forces them to risk their lives in order to receive protection. The EU entered into a dubious deal with authoritarian Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in March 2016 to close the so-called Balkan route. Under the deal, refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are deported back to Turkey. In return, EU countries should take in one Syrian refugee from Turkey through legal channels for every Syrian deported. The implementation of the deal has since led to a permanent state of emergency in the Aegean. The camps on the Greek islands have effectively become prisons, where thousands of people seeking protection have to endure the most precarious conditions.
Next week, the Council and the Commission plan to make a statement on illegal pushbacks in Greece before the European Parliament.
“What is happening in Greece is a catastrophe. I have seen a lot, but I have never seen such a situation, not even in Iraq in 2014”, MEP Cornelia Ernst says. “The European border agency Frontex had evidence of alleged illegal pushbacks by Greek border guards. However, the agency failed once more to address and prevent the violations of fundamental rights under its remit.”
Greece is not an isolated case. The same is happening in Poland, Hungary and Croatia. EU states push back people seeking protection at their borders without granting them access to the asylum procedure or checking whether they need protection. Member states in the center of Europe like France or Germany are happy to sit back and watch as Europe’s border states keep protection seekers at bay. And what is worse, Germany has supplied thermal imaging cameras to Croatia to monitor borders there at night. There are reconnaissance missions with German officials in the Aegean.
We cannot have first and second class protection seekers in Europe. Solidarity must reach beyond Ukrainian refugees. We must not forget the many people at the EU’s external borders who are also in danger. We need humane treatment of asylum seekers in the EU, wherever they have to flee from.