Last week’s UN Summit on refugees and migrants in New York gave a clear indication that the majority of western governments have opted for a more restrictive asylum policy in the face of the increasing global refugee challenge.
Despite the pledges to boost funding and protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, no commitments were made to set an ambitious target for resettlement which would provide much needed help for host countries such as Lebanon and Ethiopia. Instead, the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, used her speech at the UN summit to call for more efforts to stop mass movements of people. May’s speech, as well as the general lack of commitment to increase resettlement, indicates that the priority for most governments, particularly Member States from the EU, the richest regional bloc in the world, is to restrict the flows of people. Policies that are limiting the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are increasingly being used by Member States across Europe. In addition, by linking aid budgets with border enforcement, this draws attention to the two-tier approach to asylum policies that is enhancing the hostile environment towards this group. Furthermore, it sends a clear message to those seeking international protection in Europe that you are not welcome here.
Following the UN Summit, Theresa May also announced that more than £100 million of UK aid will be allocated to return Somali refugees and to prevent mass uncontrolled population movement. A similar trend is also occurring at EU level, highlighted with the EU migration compact which was announced during the summer, its objectives include ‘increasing returns, enabling migrants and refugees to stay closer to home and, in the long term, helping third countries’ development in order to address root causes of irregular migration’.
The EU migration compact will be financed partly by the EU development fund reserve. By linking aid budgets with border enforcement, both of these examples indicate a desire to restrict the rights to asylum as well as a desire to re-divert and prohibit refugee and migratory flows away from Europe. By using part of aid budgets to finance border enforcement, the rhetoric towards aid-receiving countries from a majority of European Member States including the UK seems to be: if you want our financial assistance for aid then keep these people from leaving your countries, and more importantly, away from Europe. The racialised undertones in this approach to asylum and migration policy should not be overlooked. The desire to tackle the ‘root causes of migration’ from Africa by linking aid with border control notably draws attention to the desire to restrict African immigration to Europe, as well as the desire to have more control over the movements of black people and other people of colour.
With regards to the hostile environment created in Europe, within the EU there has been a slow response from Member States to relocate those in need of international protection from Greece and Italy as well as the low figure to resettle refugees globally. In addition, the narrative of ‘flexible solidarity’ and the belief that policies to protect refugees are a sign of ‘political correctness’ indicate that compassion has taken a back seat. Instead, measures that are more selective and restrictive in asylum and migration policy are being favoured. Across the EU, policies are geared more towards punishment, as can be seen in the current EU proposals on reforming the asylum system (Dublin regulation), where asylum claims can be automatically rejected before the application is considered if the country that an asylum-seeker is from or the country he or she has passed through is considered as ‘safe’.
Another example of the restrictive approach can be seen in the recent decision by the UK government to increase asylum and immigration tribunal fees by 500%, essentially pricing people out of their right to claim asylum. Furthermore, the latest figures concerning the UK’s use of the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) show that most of this fund has been used facilitate deportations. These examples serve as an indication that safeguarding the rights to asylum is not a high priority when compared to the desire to not create ‘pull factors’ for people to come to Europe.
This two-tier approach to asylum and migration policy increases efforts to restrict the movement of a large majority of those seeking international protection and a new life in Europe. In addition, responsibility is increasingly placed on the shoulders of the countries that are recipients of aid to also ‘do their bit’ in controlling migration. On the back-drop of the increasing amount of people becoming displaced and seeking international protection, it appears that the answer given by a majority of Member States in the EU is to focus more on border enforcement. Keeping them out appears to be the main focus at the expense of credible commitments to a global refugee challenge.
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Anike Bello currently works as a policy advisor specializing in migration in EU politics. Born and raised in London, she enjoys travelling and has lived in Spain and Belgium. Her interests are in human rights, African history, writing as well as trying to become more of a polyglot. You can reach out to her on Twitter at @AnikeBello_ or follow her blog at aniketalks.tumblr.com.