Commentary: Medreset Policy Brief 5 – (The EU’s Migration, Asylum and Mobility Policies in the Mediterranean) - by Karina Goulordava
As polemic as discussions on economy, trade, and democracy can be, the topic of migration, asylum, and mobility in the Mediterranean is one of the most contentions in recent years. While migration to the EU has been ongoing since even prior to the establishment of the Union itself, since the start of the war in Syria and what became known as the refugee crisis in 2015, South-North migration in the Mediterranean has become global news. Many in the world, and especially in the Mediterranean are aware of the large numbers of people crossing the sea, and the disturbing number of deaths that occur. Networks of smuggling have expectedly developed, and additional human rights abuses have thus skyrocketed. The movement of humans across the world is not new, nor is governments’ desire to police and document it. However, today’s policies must be revisited and established within a framework of human rights and protection of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.
As highlighted in the policy brief, EU’s policies on migration, asylum, and mobility take a securitization approach above all. Instead of viewing the ongoing movement of people from southern Mediterranean countries from the perspective of human rights, the large movement of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been pinned as primarily a security concern. Policies and efforts seek to screen and stall those on the move, often for indefinite periods of time. The Turkey-EU agreement sought to do just this, as Turkey received aid, support, and EU concessions for the prolonged hosting of refugees and migrants in Turkey that would otherwise seek to travel to EU countries.
The total lack of a human rights approach towards this issue is most clearly exemplified by a failure of the EU to establish any rescue efforts for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat. Each year, thousands die at sea and most rescue operations are not publicly run by EU member states. The Mediterranean Sea must now be understood as a border and is clearly approached as such by those on the move. If the EU’s policies towards migration focused on human rights and protection, funds earmarked for securitization, at least in part, would be redirected towards rescue.
These policies should not begin on the shores of Turkey, Libya, and Tunis and end in Italy, Spain, or Greece. Migration, asylum and mobility must also be understood from a south-south perspective, as highlighted by one interlocutor in the policy brief. It is known that southern Mediterranean countries hold stringent and often harsh policies themselves towards their neighbors. For example, Lebanese citizens are required to apply for visas for many SEM countries, and vice versa. Results of policies towards migrants and asylum seeks in Lebanon are full of human rights abuses. Lebanon is not the only such country in the region, with Libya being highlighted for its established networks of human smuggling, Israel’s internal and international discriminatory migration and asylum approaches, Egypt’s cooperation in the Gaza blockade, and much more. While north-south policies in the Mediterranean need to be drastically readjusted based on values of human rights and protection of migrant, refugees, and asylum seekers, south-south policies must also be studied, criticized, and pushed for radical transformation.