New search and rescue zones in the Mediterranean are to be opened by North African countries where migrant boats would be stopped before reaching European territorial waters, a freshly published new EU doctrine for dealing with illegal migrants envisions. From there illegal migrants would be sent to new “disembarkation platforms” set up far from the coast in these countries and in Western Africa. The “platforms” will be run by EU agencies and the EU will cover the costs.
In less than a month since tasked with by the EU leaders, the European Commission published “the first concepts” of its vision which will be discussed already on 25 July with the EU ambassadors in Brussels and with the IOM, UNHCR and the African partners on July 30 in Geneva.
These concept papers set out the principles and the objectives of rescuing people in line with the international law”, a European official said, underlining that “avoiding creation of new pull factors” for migration is one of the leading principles of the disembarkation platforms together with “breaking the smugglers model”.
The documents are to be discussed this autumn and would provide the basis for possible legislative actions which could turn them. At this stage they look sketchier leaving a lot of details still undeveloped.
The disembarkation platforms, first discussed among the EU leaders at the end of June, will be voluntary centres, based in Africa, which will be under the operation of the IOM and UNHCR and financially supported by the EU. They will be set up at safe countries which respect the non-refoulment principle.
There the two UN agencies will screen and identify migrants saved in international waters in the Mediterranean by EU ships. IOM and UNHCR will separate those with relevant asylum claim from economic migrants. From there the first will be sent for resettlement to Europe or elsewhere and the rest will be returned to their home countries. The Commission states in its paper that measures are foreseen for those returned to not be able to come back to the host centres. The platforms are to be placed far from the coast line to make it difficult to flee from them and try to cross the sea again.
Do not imagine platforms as nice places on the beach. It is more likely that they will be set close to facilities from where the migrants will be transferred”, the EU official explained.
The idea is survivors from the sea to be steadily processed outside of Europe avoiding the risk of them fleeing and staying illegally in the EU.
The main differences between the refugee camps and the disembarkation platforms will be that all of them will provide for “decent conditions” and migrants will be able to stay there only shortly until their fate is decided by the personal processing their files.
Talks on the locations are not taking place yet, but it is most likely that they will be settled in the countries of the Northern Mediterranean and in the Western Africa, which are places of origin of many migrants or are on the main migratory routes to Europe. It is exactly those countries which are invited to discuss the new concept in Geneva next week, together with the African Union.
“Region-wide action and responsibility of all countries in the Mediterranean is necessary”, the EU paper states, adding “only a small number of the states in the Mediterranean basin are contributing to the implementation of the search and rescue coordination”. The EU ambition is that all coastal countries ratify the International Convention for Search and Rescue, which will oblige them to open search and rescue zones. From there people saved at sea will be sailed to the centres on their territory.
So far, no country has expressed a will to host such centres, but the European Commission is trying to convince at least part of them using what looks like carrot and stick strategy.
The idea is to help costal states perform their international obligations.”, the EU official stressed. At the same time dealing with the asylum claims “more swiftly, effectively, safely and securely” will help reduce the financial and political burden the authorities in the host countries are currently experiencing, the EU official said.
Unlike the controlled centres on EU soil, the disembarkation platforms will be operated by the UN agencies for migration and refugees, together with the local authorities. They will proceed with migrants, while the EU will serve as a guarantor for the observation of the respect of the international standards and with pay the bills.
The EU takes on itself also the role of negotiating the conditions in the centres as well as the “partnership” terms with the third countries.
It is not clear yet if the EU will cover all the expenses or will share the costs with the UN. At this initial phase it looks more likely the Union is ready to take all the financial burden including the establishment and running the platforms, the cost for the returns and resettlement of migrants. Europe will be paying for the integration of those staying in the host country and for the border management equipment, the training and of the enforcement of the hosts’ own asylum systems.
The EU will also speak money with the African countries as “we already give a lot for development aid to them”, the official says, while another one adds “certain benchmarks” on the rights of migrants and the conditions in which they will be kept will have to be pre-committed by the hosts to be inaugurated as disembarkation places”.
The EU has only preconditioned development aid with migration arrangements for Bangladesh so far.
“Tailor made and targeted packages” will be offered to the hosts in return for their voluntary participation, the paper promises. These will be coming on top of already existing commitments in assistance from the EU side. The financial details of the new indicative are particularly sketchy with the European Commission only assuring “hundreds of millions” are available for the new migration centres both on the EU and outside of its territory.
European Commission’s paper on Regional disembarkation centre
Factsheet on Regional disembarkation arrangements
Press release: Managing migration: Commission expands on disembarkation and controlled centre concepts
OMH article: “Disembarkation Platforms”, Return of Refugees or Internal Border Closures in EU on Summit Agenda
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