By: Katarzyna Nazarewicz
Enough with the romanticism already…
Dying to Get Here
Europe is the fastest aging region of the world badly needing to attract skilled immigrants from beyond its borders in order to boost the economy and overcome the growing opposition from the rise of right-wing populist political parties.
The top three powerhouses – Germany, Spain and Poland – will witness the crumbling of their economy inflicted by the ever so declining population. According to Eurostat, Germany’s 82 million citizens will drop down to 75 million by 2050, and unless Germany decides to invest in its immigrants, the country will undoubtedly face serious labour constraints. Nevertheless, many of the European countries still picking up from the recession are driven by false conceptions about demographic realities influenced by anti-immigration political pomposity. The likes of Nigel Farage in Britain or Marine Le Pen in France are attracting working-class voters who blame immigrants for stealing jobs, driving down wages, and putting a strain on social services.
This growing distaste directed at immigrants has forced Pope Francis to address the European Parliament in his latest speech. The Pope urges Europe to adopt a more welcoming attitude towards migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life escaping wars and violence. He went on to state that we should not treat them as “pawns on the chessboard of humanity”, as they are “children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having – but above all for being more.”
According to a report conducted by the International Organisation for Migration, 2014 has claimed over 3,000 lives of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. This is a chilling statistic, but what is even more chilling is the statement produced by the UK Foreign Office which axes support for any future rescue missions, as means of preventing a ‘pull factor’ simply encouraging more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing. According to Maurice Wren, British Refugee Council, the UK “government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War (…) People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them liferings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.”
On the 5th of December, the feud of racial politics has yet again dominated Dutch news caused by the children’s holiday of Sinterklaas. Now, this may seem absurd – an innocent Christmas celebration surely couldn’t cause racial upheaval on a national level – but how far from innocent it really is. Well, the problem lies here: white Dutch people paint their faces black to represent the figure of Zwarte Piet (a clown-elf assisting St Nicholas in distributing presents) who is based on 17th century Moorish slaves. And with a big population of Dutch people with African ancestry, this is highly insensitive and just simply unacceptable.There is no place for racist traditions and Europe better wake up from their long colonial hangover.
When Martin Luther King made his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963, I can assure you that he did not imagine that 50 years later the world will be still divided between one’s skin colour, religion or origin. So are we really going backwards in social relations? Oh yes. Just take a look at what has been happening in America. A white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenage boy fatally killing him. What happens? Well nothing happens and that’s the problem. The officer who shot a 12 year old boy playing in a park is not prosecuted by the grand jury.This decision along with President Obama’s poker face on the topic has set off a wave of anger.Now let’s go to Africa. Isn’t it strange that us – “the almighty Europeans” have only started to get bombarded with the apocalyptic news on Ebola when a white doctor gets infected.From Africa we go to France, where there was a recent case of a Roma boy who was brutally attacked in Paris. The liberal City of Poets doesn’t seem to be ready to accept gypsy immigrants. And naturally from France we can scroll our finger through Europe’s map and point every country showing signs of institutional racism. Europe is facing moral confrontations caused by growing nationalism and racism and while efforts are being made at the European Union to incorporate social and political life of minorities, the old continent needs to shift its old ways.
Humans for Sale
The European Union’s strategy on human trafficking describes the hidden industry as the “slavery of modern age”. But what the majority of Europeans don’t realise is that a big proportion of those trafficked are in fact European and make up around 60% of those identified as victims of human trafficking.
According to Europol’s 2009 and 2013 study, Romania tops the list with 40% of victims, followed by Hungary at 18%, and lastly Bulgaria with 11%. The majority of human trafficking targets are the vulnerable – women and girls – along with the most widespread reason for human trafficking being sexual exploitation. In fact, according to Eurostat, 62% of victims between 2008 and 2010 have been specifically kidnapped for sex trade purposes.
Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have taken action towards decriminalisation of prostitution as means of regulating the sex industry and providing sex workers with social rights and benefits. However, the legalization of prostitution has had an opposite effect making Germany a trafficker’s paradise with over a million men across Europe visiting brothels every day.
The sex trade is a globalized and a highly lucrative business. According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated $47 billion are made each year through trafficking women for sex within the EU.Human trafficking whether it is for prostitution, forced labour, human organs, illegal adoptions or forced marriages, requires a common European response. The current EU laws on human trafficking are not only failing the victims but are also allowing the crime networks to further flourish.
When the Maastricht Treaty established the current European Union in 1993 people had big hopes and dreams. But now of course, with Polish waitresses in London and British pensioners in Spain – these are the standard parts of national life of a European citizen. And despite being more European than ever before, we still have a long way ahead of us in order to discard some our dirty problems.
EU migration plan “dangerously incomplete”
By Kristy Siegfried
LONDON, 6 March 2015 (IRIN) – Irregular migration into the European Union is on the rise and the task of coming up with a new plan to better manage the surge has fallen to the European Commission.
It is an unenviable task. There were 278,000 irregular border crossings in 2014, nearly triple the previous year’s figure, according to Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, but member states have been unable to muster a collective response.
Italy’s Mediterranean search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, was discontinued late last year after saving over 150,000 lives, because other EU countries were unwilling to share the nearly US$10 million a month cost. Meanwhile, Germany and Sweden have taken in far larger numbers of Syrian asylum seekers than other member states such as the UK which has accepted only 90.
As UN Special Representative for International Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland, wrote earlier this week, there is an “imbalance of commitment and compassion within the EU”.
Sutherland described the drafting of a new EU migration agenda as “critically important” and urged the Commission not to resort to “short-term, knee-jerk solutions, and instead develop a truly creative, comprehensive plan of action both at home and abroad.”
However, based on an outline released on Wednesday of the four main areas of the agenda that the Commission expects to focus on, there are already some worrying omissions.
The most glaring one, Amnesty International was quick to point out, is the absence of any plan to replace Mare Nostrum with an EU-wide search-and-rescue mission.
During 2014, when Mare Nostrum was still operational, as many as 3,500 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). So far in 2015, another 370 people who risked the crossing despite rough winter seas, have perished or gone missing. A Frontex-led operation called Triton started when Mare Nostrum ended, but was never meant to replace it and has been far more limited in geographical scope.
“Without a collective and concerted rescue mission, the European Agenda on Migration remains dangerously incomplete,” commented Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European office.
Here is a brief roundup of what the European Commission’s outline migration agenda does and does not contain:
1. A strengthened common European asylum system – The Commission says it will work to ensure that “all divergences in national asylum policy practices disappear”. It is a lofty and vague goal considering that a truly harmonized EU-wide asylum system has remained unattainable for over a decade. Refugee recognition rates and reception conditions for asylum seekers still vary widely from one country to the next.
Stefan Kessler, senior policy officer with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, noted that the Commission makes no mention of finding alternatives to the Dublin Regulation, which is used to return asylum seekers to the first EU country where they registered a claim. The result has been thousands of asylum seekers being transferred from northern European countries such as Germany and France to “frontline” states such as Italy and Hungary with already overwhelmed asylum systems. Some countries are also more likely to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers than others, another issue that has not been flagged by the Commission.
2. A new European policy on legal migration – Migrant and refugee rights groups have long been calling for more legal migration routes into Europe so as to reduce the flow of migrants and asylum seekers risking illegal routes in search of protection and a better life. But the new policy on legal migration outlined on Wednesday promises only to address high-skilled migration – “how to attract the right talent to be more competitive at a global level”.
For Kessler, this represents the most significant missed opportunity. “It does not take up our call for safe and legal ways to protection,” he told IRIN. “There is no mention of increasing the numbers of refugees accepted by member states for resettlement or allowing asylum seekers to apply for humanitarian or family-reunification visas from outside the EU, just two of the ways in which asylum seekers could gain much safer, legal access to the EU.
3. Enhancing the fight against irregular migration and trafficking – Ana Fontal of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) points out that the Commission has so far failed “to make the link that refugees will continue to have to use smugglers because they have no other alternatives to reach safety in Europe.” The outline agenda does mention further collaboration with origin and transit countries and discusses building on existing readmission agreements. Such agreements allow the EU to return irregular migrants to countries at its borders such as Turkey and Tunisia. “There are no effective human rights safe guards in these agreements and no mechanisms for monitoring what actually happens with people who are returned under these agreements,” said Kessler.
4. Securing Europe’s external borders – The final focus area for the new agenda is likely to be an easy sell to European voters. It is the one area of migration management that member states seem happy to fund. Frontex was created 10 years ago with an annual budget of around US$20 million. Its budget for 2015 is US$125 million, a 16 percent increase from 2014 and the Commission’s outline agenda mentions the possibility of a further increase.
The European Agenda on Migration will only be finalised in mid-May. After that the most important missing ingredient may be political will.
“All of these proposals, the [member] states pick up what they want, which is usually more border control but not the possibility of opening legal channels,” said Fontal of ECRE, pointing to the example of the Task Force for the Mediterranean, set up by the European Commission in the wake of the Lampedusa shipwreck in October 2013 that claimed hundreds of migrant lives. One of the stated aims of the Task Force was to create more legal channels to Europe, but in practice implementation has focused on more readmission agreements with third countries and reinforced border surveillance.
“What we need is increased political will and even in the case of search and rescue, it isn’t there,” Fontal told IRIN.
At a meeting to address mixed migration by sea hosted by the UN’s International Maritime Organisation in London on Wednesday, commercial ship owners reported that they are struggling to cope with the financial and security costs of diverting increasing numbers of their vessels to rescue migrants at sea.
Speaking at the same meeting, Volker Türk, assistant high commissioner for protection at UNHCR said: “there is no avoiding that the most pressing need—in the Mediterranean, but also elsewhere—is for a robust State-led international search-and-rescue operation with a clear humanitarian and life-saving mandate”.