More than 100 NGOs tell European Union leaders to change migration policies

A family of Afghan asylum seekers waits to enter the Moria registration center on the Greek island of Lesbos. (Zalmai/Human Rights Watch)

More than 100 aid groups and nongovernmental organizations signed a letter to the European Union harshly criticizing the bloc’s initiatives to stop migrants. The issue of migration is on the agenda for the European Council meeting taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. Leaders hope to sketch out a way forward to work with non-European countries to accept migrants attempting to enter the region, similar to the much-maligned deal with Turkey.

“We urge [European Union (EU)] leaders to choose a rights-based system to manage migration, based on a viable long-term strategic vision, rather than pursuing an unattainable and inhumane deterrence objective and thereby abandoning its core founding principles,” the letter stated.

The letter said that the EU is taking a hypocritical stance by asking partner countries to host migrants in order for European countries to keep them out. It shifts the responsibility of providing asylum away from the EU countries and onto other countries. As a result, people are at risk of being sent to countries where they have fewer protections, and it undermines the ability of people fleeing conflict zones to seek asylum.

For two years, the number of migrants and refugees trying to enter Europe has spiked dramatically. It has led to political turmoil in European countries, from the rise of right-wing parties in Austria and France to the recent vote by the U.K. to leave the European Union. Last week’s Brexit vote looms over the meetings, especially given that the issue of migration was one of the reasons why Brits voted to leave.

Given the current circumstances, leaders are politically motivated to find swift solutions to the migration crisis. Since the EU-Turkey deal, the number of daily arrivals in Greece has fallen from 7,000 in October 2015 to 50 in May 2016. Sending migrants to other countries would further relieve the pressure on Europe. But the fact that individual rights are so easily tossed aside is what the letter signatories find most concerning.

“We are disappointed to see that once again the emphasis on deterrence leaves no clear commitments to open up safe and regular channels to Europe for those in need of international protection and for other migrants,” the letter states. “Any cooperation to manage migration should take into consideration this complex and multifaceted reality, be evidence and needs-based, and ensure that the benefits of migration are maximized and the risks are mitigated.”

Recommendations in the letter focus on protecting people and determining long-term solutions. It points out that the forces that contribute to people leaving their homes for Europe must be considered and dealt with. Poverty and conflict are the leading drivers of the sudden rise of asylum seekers and migrants seeking entry to Europe. Turning people back or sending them to other countries does nothing to address the reasons why they left in the first place.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.