By Kavya Verma
The European Union’s values are stated as being respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law. It was likely on the basis of these fundamental values that when the conflict in Syria arose in 2011 the EU and its member states were at first welcoming to refugees and migrants. Seven years on, a swarm of individuals and parties who ran almost entirely on the basis of being anti-immigrant now run the government of numerous member states, and show no sign of losing power in coming European elections. Much of this can be traced to the growing perception in European society that the European way of life is under threat due to the influx of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in the past seven years. The originally welcoming EU and the governments of individual member states have now switched from the path of accepting migrants to finding alternate means to deal with new arrivals.
One of these means is to outsource the problem to third-world countries, through the development of processing centers in third-world countries where migrants will stay during this transition. These centers would allow for individuals who are intercepted at sea to be taken to extraterritorial processing centers, where they will be kept until their asylum claims are processed. This option has been floating around increasingly seriously in since internal tensions began to escalate in Germany, when one of the key parties in the government coalition threatened to leave the coalition if the Dublin Regulation was not more strictly enforced.
With this domestic predicament at hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to the June EU Summit where a majority of the time was spent with heads of member states discussing potential solutions to the migrant crisis. Processing centers were floated as an idea that is believed to not be entirely inhumane, while also keeping potential new arrivals from reaching the EU.
Aside from the moral implications of placing processing centers in third-world countries, some of which have concerning human rights records, there is the issue of practicality. As French President Emmanuel Macron pointed out, this plan cannot go ahead without the cooperation of African countries, who thus far have yet to reach any concrete agreement with the EU on opening these centers where asylum seekers will stay until their asylum applications have been reviewed.
In August 2017, the EU began a program where the Libyan coastguard was being trained by the EU on how to better intercept boats. Upon intercepting these boats, the people onboard are taken to Libyan detention centers, a practice condemned by the UNHCR as Libya remains human rights conditions in Libya remain turbulent. By November, the number of boats and migrants intercepted had already dramatically risen from 7,000 people in detention centers in September, to nearly 20,000 in November.
As elections across Europe continue and the far right and anti-immigrant parties do increasingly better, it is likely that calls for processing center like areas will only grow. While it is yet to be determined whether transit countries in Africa and even the Middle East will agree to host such centers, their very existence is unconducive to the EU’s fundamental values of human rights. If these processing centers do ever come into existence, then given that detention centers for migrants and asylum seekers in member state countries such as Greece have been denounced for deplorable hygiene conditions and chronic occurrences of sexual assault, it is likely that those in third-world countries with far more volatile internal politics will contain even greater instances of human rights violations that are the exact opposite of the EU’s supposed fundamental values of respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law.