Archive for Asylum

A Fresh Start in EU Migration Policy: Re-examining the Dublin Regulation

Guest Contributor Ali Cain is an M.A. Candidate in the European History, Politics and Society Program at Columbia University. She is additionally the Program Coordinator for the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights (CLIHHR). Her research interests include populism, refugee rights and transatlantic relations.

During her 2019 candidacy for European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen proposed a New Pact on Migration and Asylum to “relaunch the Dublin reform of asylum rules.” Ms. von der Leyen is correct: Europe’s asylum system needs a fresh start. The Dublin Regulation III mandates that asylum seekers register upon arrival in the first European Union (EU) member state he or she enters. At the refugee crisis’ peak in 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe. Many traveled through the Mediterranean Sea, designating Italy and Greece as first ports of entry and, therefore, responsible for processing asylum claims. The influx of asylum seekers has led to immense strains on local governments, inciting animosity against refugees and creating a significant backlog of asylum decisions. 

According to Politico, there is a backlog of 90,000 asylum cases in Greece alone. The Greek government recently released a plan to create a “floating wall” to block migration routes on the Aegean Sea and will soon begin construction of closed detention centers that will limit the movement of asylum seekers. At a press conference on February 27, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis explicitly told those who do not qualify for international protection to “not come to Greece”, and warned that they will remain stuck on the islands until they are returned home. Although Greece’s treatment of refugees is appalling, their actions and rhetoric towards refugees demonstrates the depths of desperation which border states are being driven to due to EU inaction. To complicate issues further, the EU received its highest numbers of asylum applications since 2015; the European Asylum Support Office reported that 714,2000 applications were received in 2019. Future migration crises are inevitable, especially given climate change as an increasingly central driver of forced displacement. Commission President von der Leyen must prioritize the reform of the Dublin Regulation to create a cohesive asylum process in Europe. 

The Dublin Convention was created in 1997 in response to the Schengen Zone’s development. Under the Convention and its succeeding regulations, geographic arrival points determine state responsibility for refugees. The number of refugees already present in a state are not taken into consideration when determining relocation destinations or places of stay during the processing of asylum applications. Although the Dublin Framework includes rights for refugees that are already solidified under international law, including family unification and speedy asylum decisions, those rights are not enforced equally among EU member states. Following the 2015 refugee crisis, the EU began to discuss reforming the Dublin system to include burden-sharing measures and increased human rights protections. The European Commission proposed a reallocation quota determined by each country’s population and gross domestic product (GDP). The European Parliament suggested amendments to the Commission’s proposal also to include family reunification and prior residence/study in relocation decisions. The European Council must decide whether to implement burden-sharing provisions, but has been divided on the best way to actually relocate refugees since December 2018. The Visegrád countries – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – have refused to accept refugees or abide by quotas.

As a result of Council gridlock, member states have relied heavily on third-party agreements to curb migration. These agreements have been successful in achieving the EU’s overall goal of curbing migration but pose threats to human rights and are not sustainable in the long-term. Although the EU’s 2016 deal with Turkey led to a 97% decrease in migration from Turkey to Greece, 3RP reported that over 64% of the 3.6 million refugees living in Turkey are living in poverty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced plans for the “voluntary” resettlement of refugees in a “peace zone” in Northern Syria. Pushing refugees to return to Syria would violate non-refoulement standards under international law, which mandates that a host country cannot return asylum seekers to a country where they would be in danger or would be persecuted. Furthermore, President Erdogan announced on February 27, 2020 that Turkish authorities will not prohibit Syrian refugees from leaving Turkey to go to Europe, as Turkey is facing an influx of Syrian refugees from Idlib due to recent attacks by the Assad government and Russia. This recent announcement demonstrates the precise issue with third-party agreements: they provide short term reprive for host countries but kick the can of dealing with refugees down the road at refugees’ expense.  

The EU-Turkey deal also has implications for those already in Europe. For example, thousands of refugees are stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos as the EU-Turkey agreement prohibits their arrival on mainland Greece. Most recently, protests against inhumane living conditions broke out at the Moria refugee camp, where 20,000 refugees are cramped into facilities built to house 3,000 individuals. These conditions, which are common in many refugee camps throughout Europe, infringe on basic human rights secured under international conventions, including the 1951 Refugee Convention.  The EU’s 2015 Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has decreased economic factors that encourage migration from Africa by providing over 50,000 jobs and improving living standards. However, as explained in a recent Oxfam report, European investment in specific countries and regions is tied to migration levels stemming from each origin country. Addressing underlying societal issues like poverty and inequality, and political issues like corruption is not tied to aid. The EU also increasingly has depended upon the Libyan Coast Guard for search and rescue (SAR) missions, which intercept boats and return passengers to Libya. Those sent back to Libya face torture and trafficking in detention centers run by both the government and militias. Forced returns to Libya also violates the principle of non-refoulement.

A report released by the European Council on Foreign Relations argues that member states may now be more open to asylum relocations and burden sharing. In July 2019, fourteen states signed a solidarity mechanism, pledging to relocate migrants across the EU. In September 2019, Italy’s staunchly anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini was recently replaced by migration specialist Luciana Lamorgese in September 2019. Italy’s migration policies have already begun to change as private charity’s boats can now dock at Italian ports. Additionally, a recent European Council on Foreign Relations survey found that a majority of EU citizens no longer see migration as the most pressing issue of concern. Instead, survey respondents reported “health, housing unemployment, and living costs as standout issues.” Although it is easy to get caught up in the pessimism of current EU affairs, all European countries can agree that the current system under the Dublin Regulation is not working. A November 2019 EU Council Presidency report acknowledges the importance of the EU speaking in one voice about migration and concludes that “the more members states have the perception that EU legislation is meeting their concrete needs and taking into account their administrative realities, the more likely it is that the implementation will be successful.” The new Commission’s expressed interest in reforming the CEAS and the designation of €949 million ($1,039,120,000) to the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund presents an opportunity for reform. The EU has also pledged 30.8 billion ($41,608,700,000) for immigration and border control issues in the 2021-2027 budget.  Furthermore, the conclusion of Brexit provides a pivotal moment for the remaining 27 member states to reestablish the EU’s joint efforts and cohesiveness.

Migration is one of the most complicated and emotionally-driven issues to nation-states, as it heightens various concerns regarding economic and cultural security. The EU’s current approach in relying on third-party agreements, increasing general border control, and remaining gridlocked over how to better distribute refugees throughout Europe is a significant problem. Border states, especially Greece, and larger financially stable states like Germany, cannot be solely responsible for asylum seekers. The European Commission must push states to reopen discussions and negotiations on reforming the Dublin Regulation.

Failing to Protect Human Rights: The United States and the Asylum Cooperation Agreements

By: Jacquelyn Sieck, RightsViews Staff Writer 

In 2019, the United States forced countries in the Northern Triangle – a region composed of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – to sign Asylum Cooperation Agreements by withholding over $500 Million in aid. These threats of aid suspension echo Cold War-Era proxy war interventions in Central America, during which the United States blocked the Guatemalan government from receiving “much-needed” development loans from the World Bank because it did not approve of the Arévalo Government. During these proxy wars, the United States offered “support for a coup in Guatemala, brutal government forces in El Salvador, and right-wing rebels based in Honduras known as the Contras.” This U.S. support led to gross human rights abuses, and demonstrated to the region that the United States is willing to act on threats and suspend aid to governments in need in order to further its foreign policy objectives. This sentiment and realization forced the Northern Triangle to respond swiftly to the aid suspension by signing the formal Agreements, after which over $143 Million in aid was released to the countries. 

The Asylum Cooperation Agreements were each signed bilaterally between the United States and the respective Northern Triangle country. The Agreements allow for the transfer of asylum seekers who arrive in the United States without having applied for asylum in at least one third country. Most alarming about the Asylum Cooperation Agreements, however, are that they designate Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as “safe.” This is in spite of the fact that in 2018, El Salvador had 51 murders per 100,000 people, and Honduras had 40. Further, the U.S. Department of State’s yearly Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have recognized human rights violations, violence, and impunity in the countries of the Northern Triangle. The United States’ 2017 National Security Strategy explicitly states: “transnational criminal organizations—including gangs and cartels— perpetuate violence and corruption, and threaten the stability of Central American states including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.” These government reports show that the United States has, in fact, recognized the violence in the region; the United States government is attempting to argue these countries are safe while having produced numerous documents which argue the exact opposite.

This recognition of violence in the region can be found in the numbers of asylum grants and applications from the region in recent years. In August of Fiscal Year 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service published statistics that 72% of the migrants apprehended at the U.S. Southern border were from the Northern Triangle countries. Another report, authored by Nadwa Mossad in the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, published statistics that in FY 2016, 27.1% of all asylum grants were from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This number was met by 31.9% of all asylum grants being from the Northern Triangle in FY 2017, and 19% of all asylum grants in FY 2018. In order to be granted asylum, the applicant must meet the Immigration and Nationality Act definition of a refugee – have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion –  and be inside the United States. 

There has been a large pushback to the newly signed Agreements from civilians and legislators in all countries involved. Guatemalan media began recognizing that their Congress had not passed the Agreement and El Salvadoran Elected Representatives talked about how the Agreement contradicted the laws on migration and foreigners. Moreover, the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, discussed how El Salvador did not have the capacity to maintain a humane environment for asylum seekers. This lack of capacity is shown by statistics the government of El Salvador published, which stated they only processed 87 refugee applications and zero political asylum applications between June 12, 2014, and June 12, 2019. Guatemala received 262 asylum requests in all of 2018 and only has four asylum officers to manage them. In the United States, civil society organizations sued the Trump Administration, but the U.S. Supreme Court stated the policy could be enforced while lower courts continue their adjudications. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented and stated that the Agreements  “upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution.”

The effects of the aid suspension have already been experienced by the region, as projects remain at risk because the State Department “reportedly reprogrammed $404 million (82%) of the $490 million of FY2018 assistance Northern Triangle.” The Congressional Research Service has said that this lost aid “could jeopardize recent improvements in security conditions in the Northern Triangle,” noting that “homicide rates are reportedly increasing once again in some neighborhoods in Honduras from which USAID withdrew due to a lack of funds.” 

The risks, however, have already begun for asylum seekers: the first Honduran asylum seeker arrived in Guatemala on November 22, 2019. The asylum seeker was reportedly offered asylum in Guatemala, a job, and a place to live, but decided to return to Honduras. Less than two weeks later, two more Honduran asylum seekers and the first El Salvadoran asylum seekers were transferred to Guatemala, and Alejandra Mena, the spokeswoman for the Guatemalan migration institute “did not specify whether the migrants from Honduras and El Salvador would seek asylum in Guatemala or return to their countries.” The uncertainty as to whether the migrants will return to the country from which they fled shows the dangers of the Agreements in providing protection to asylum seekers.

These Agreements show a continued U.S. influence in Central America, and put the safety of Asylum seekers at risk by forcing the Northern Triangle governments, all of whom have a mass exodus of citizens each year who seek asylum in the United States, to sign Asylum Cooperation Agreements and begin accepting transfers of asylum seekers. The transfer of tens of thousands of asylum seekers to these Northern Triangle countries will place an extreme burden on underdeveloped asylum systems that have only handled hundreds of cases in the past few years. With over 59,000 migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border awaiting U.S. immigration hearings, the failure to protect asylum seekers remains evident. As of February 4, 2020 the United States has transferred 378 Honduran and El Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala, the majority of whom are women and children. In order to protect human rights, the United States must stop the transfer of asylum seekers to dangerous countries which have underdeveloped asylum systems and cannot offer protection to those the transfers which arrive.