Tuesday 21 November 2017

We should fly Med migrants to safety in Europe

Tunisia’s navy rescued more than 350 illegal migrants off its coast and was searching for hundreds more after they tried to sail from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the local Red Cross said. Photo: Reuters
Tunisia’s navy rescued more than 350 illegal migrants off its coast and was searching for hundreds more after they tried to sail from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa, the local Red Cross said. Photo: Reuters
A family of migrants on their way to western Europe rest at a train station in Demir Kapija, Macedonia. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Francois Dufour

An emergency situation requires an emergency solution. To stop the shipwrecks and the drownings in the Mediterranean, let's put the presumed refugees (or "would-be refugees" as described by the British press) in planes directly to Europe.

In the last year, around half the migrants crossing the Med were asylum seekers. The other half was made up of economic migrants searching for jobs. For them, it's another story that I won't address here.

According to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee agency), in 2015 two migrants out of three have been asylum seekers coming principally from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria.

Consequently one migrant out of two on those death-boats has the right to come to Europe. More importantly, Europe has a duty to protect them.

The 1951 Geneva convention protects any "person owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Europe also protects (this principle is called subsidiary or temporary protection) those who would take serious risks if they decide to return to their home country.

Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)
Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne is expected to arrive at an Italian port with almost 400 migrants rescued at sea over the weekend (Photo: Defence Forces)

Here's the problem: as long as they have not received refugee or protected person status or at the very least an asylum visa, they cannot present themselves at airport check-in counters.

This is despite the fact that a flight would be less expensive and infinitely less risky, as demonstrated by the very convincing video made by demographer Hans Rosling (available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/YO0IRsfrPQ4).

The common sense solution is to grant them refugee or protected person status in situ.

To do this, one must answer two questions: who grants this status? and whereabouts could it be granted in situ?

A first option: a UNHCR centre in Tripoli or elsewhere on the African coast.

With the power to grant refugee/protected person status, on behalf of European countries.

A second option: a European union embassy, with the same power, in a few safe countries (which have flights to at least one European country): Algeria? Tunisia? Morocco? Sudan? Djibouti? Kenya? Lebanon? Countries that are safer than the ones the "boat-people" are fleeing from: Eritrea, Syria (for half of them, in 2015). But also: Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq...

And this must all be accomplished with great expediency as demanded by this emergency situation.

Bear in mind that very few future refugees are currently requesting an asylum visa from, say, a French Consulate in Africa authorising them to seek asylum or protection in France, especially as the French agency for refugees (l'OFPRA) can take from three months to two years to resolve application requests.

Both options (via the UNHCR or via a European embassy) then require the repartition of the total number of refugees amongst the 28 EU countries.

Two main criteria could be used: population and wealth (GNP per inhabitant) and, of course, the foreign languages spoken by the refugees.

Another advantage of this on-the-spot solution: it reduces the large number of rejected asylum seekers in Europe who stay on illegally (around three out of four) and who live in poverty.

For the past 10 years, I have interviewed African youths, both boys and girls, on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

During their journey, theoretically "from the African inferno to the European eldorado", they all have been robbed, assaulted, exploited, some of them tortured, others raped. Without mentioning all those who have drowned.

Why did they take such chances? Abdi (15) and Sihan (17) left a situation of total chaos in Somalia.

Mohamed, an 18-year-old boy from Eritrea, refused to be chain-ganged for life into the dictator's army. Just like Abel (16) and Rubel (17).

Gift (18) from Nigeria, fled Boko Haram. Cynthia, a Nigerian 18-year-old orphan, was sold by her uncle.

After hearing their stories, I always say to myself: in their shoes, I too would have fled towards the Mediterranean.

François Dufour is editor of PlayBac Presse in France

Irish Independent

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