Europe looking to make more deals to keep out migrants as legal challenges loom

Migrants and refugees daily arrive at the port of Mytilini, Greece, on March 7, 2016. (Associated Press)

Europe is making moves to decrease the number of migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East. At the same time, pending legal challenges may overturn the recent deal with Turkey that has helped to limit the number of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece. Two migrants filed suit against the deal with the top court in the European Union.

The legal challenge is important given the efforts by European leaders to make deals with various countries in order to slow down the arrival of migrants and refugees in the continent. More than 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015. While some governments welcomed migrants, others enacted policies that made it nearly impossible for people to pass.

“We propose to use a mix of positive and negative incentives to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not,” said European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans in an address to lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday.

Much like the deal struck with Turkey, Europe is trying to work with go-between countries – places like Jordan, Libya and Ethiopia. They are home to significant refugee populations and are important stops for people trying to reach Europe. Negotiations are underway to finalize deals with countries that would slow the flow of people into Europe.

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The European Union is less concerned about the situations people are leaving and more concerned about preventing these people from reaching European shores. That point is the crux of the issue. Human rights defenders and some lawmakers are concerned with migrants’ living conditions in these go-between countries. Some also say that Europe is passing the buck, forcing other countries to deal with the mass movement of people. Jordan and Lebanon alone are home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees and are struggling to support everyone arriving.

“To say today that we have a solution to our problem, that we are going to simply duplicate the deal with Turkey, and we’re going to roll it out to all the other countries – sorry, that is not the way forward,” Guy Verhofstadt, head of the European Union’s Liberal bloc, told the AP.

The deal in March with Turkey formed the basis for allowing Europe to return migrants and asylum-seekers illegally entering the region back to Turkey. Humanitarian groups resoundingly rejected the deal for reasons including the fact that it turned asylum processing centers into detention facilities. People risking their lives to find safety from the brutal civil war in Syria are being detained and then sent to Turkey if they do not go through the asylum process before entering Europe.

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Specifics of the legal challenge are still unknown, but it is the first of likely many attempts to undo the deal with Turkey. The chances look promising after the European Court of Justice delivered several decisions regarding migration, including ruling that France illegally detained a Ghanian woman for traveling from Belgium to the U.K. through France. Once in Europe, people are free to move about in European Union countries, said the court.

More than 200,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since the start of 2016, estimates the International Organization for Migration. With more than 10,000 people dying while attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe since 2014, a solution is desperately needed.

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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.