Sealing off the Mediterranean

BERLIN/VIENNA/TRIPOLI (Own report) – To ward off refugees, the EU should completely seal off the Mediterranean and immediately force refugees, intercepted at sea, to return to their home countries, demands Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, stating an even tougher position than the EU’s current deportation agreement with Turkey, imposed by Berlin. Kurz also undermines the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and – taking Australia as a model – proposes to resettle those refugees, not immediately deportable, to islands. Refugees reaching the EU without a visa should be placed in detention camps on Lesbos or Lampedusa. Whoever attempts to enter illegally, loses their “right to asylum in Europe,” Kurz declared. Protest came from Libya. Fayez al Serraj, the “Prime Minister” installed from abroad, declared that his country would not take back refugees the EU has deported. In the meantime, the number of refugees, who have drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean, is at a new high. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – which is itself participating in the global fight against refugees – between January and Mai 2016, at least 2,443 people have lost their lives on their way from North Africa to Europe – more than ever before.

“Maritime Borders can be Controlled”

Every refugee, trying to reach Europe from Africa, should be intercepted on the Mediterranean high seas and returned immediately to the country of departure, according to Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz. The objective should be to seal off the Mediterranean borders completely, in line with the Australian model. “Australia demonstrates that maritime borders can be controlled,” Kurz declared.[1] To effectively seal off the borders, the Minister calls for establishing a “Corps of Border Guards” comprised of armed forces and police units from the EU’s member countries. “Whoever tries to enter Europe illegally, loses the right to asylum here,” this applies to all refugees apprehended by the “Corps of Border Guards.”[2] Kurz claims that this is consistent with the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees “because we are dealing with refugees coming from safe third countries, where they no longer fear persecution.” Presently, refugees are trying to reach Europe from Turkey, Egypt [3] and Libya, which are among the countries declared safe. Distancing himself from the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, Austria’s foreign minister continued by alleging, it should be said, “that these type of rules in the Convention come from a completely different era.”[4] Therefore, a central principle of the global protection of refugees is – albeit implicitly for the moment – being openly put into question within the EU.

Western Values

For years, Australia’s anti-migration measures, which Kurz refers to, have been the focus of sharp criticism from around the world. Australia’s Navy systematically intercepts refugee vessels on the high seas. The refugees are not allowed to come ashore, but rather deported to detainment centers on Papua New Guinea or Nauru, where the conditions of confinement are notorious, frequently leading to uprisings, hunger strikes, self-mutilations and suicides. Even those recognized as qualifying for asylum are not allowed to come to Australia, but are given the choice of remaining in Nauru or Papua-New Guinea, respectively, or moving to Cambodia, with whom Australia has concluded an agreement. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, currently ranking 143 – out of 188 – on the scale of the UN World Development Report. In April, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that Australia’s detention camp on its territory is unconstitutional.[5] The court reasoned that it is in violation of important human rights conventions to incarcerate individuals who have done nothing wrong. In February, on the other hand, Australia’s Supreme Court ruled that mass incarceration of refugees is not in violation of Australia’s Constitution. Unlike Papua New Guinea, Australia is commonly considered a member of the “community of western values.”

Island Solutions

Protest from Libya

More Deaths than Ever

For more on this theme: Laboratories of Forced Emigration.

Full article: Sealing off the Mediterranean (German Foreign Policy)

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