Mediterranean Migration Reveals Flaws in Dublin Convention

Image by noborder network

Image by noborder network

John Donne famously reminded us that ‘no man is an island’. Likewise in today’s polycentric, ever-globalized, and interconnected world, no state can remain untouched by social, economic, or political influences from neighbouring states. As terrible as Islamic State has been for people living in Syria, Iraq and Libya, its effects on Europe are also increasingly being felt.

The rise of migration from North Africa and the Middle East to Southern Europe has resulted in a tragic increase in human suffering. The great exodus began last June as ISIS moved through Iraq, expelling Christians and other religious groups from cities such as Mosul. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that in 2014 Europe saw a 25% increase of asylum applications, with urgent European action required to stop rising refugee and migrant deaths at sea. Furthermore, mounting pressure has fallen on neighbouring nations, as the UNHCR attempts to cooperate and interact with volatile governments in Syria, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt in hopes of dealing with the ever-growing numbers of refugees.

Unsurprisingly, there has been increasing demand for the services provided by illegal transport cartels offering to take refugees from North Africa to Europe (namely Spain, Malta, Greece and Italy). These modes of travel are highly dangerous, as highlighted recently when over 300 migrants drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Tripoli in rough seas.

Desperate refugees are herded like cattle into overcrowded fishing boats and inflatable rafts, which are turned onto ‘auto pilot mode’ (as the well-paid smuggler jumps off), leaving the illegal immigrants to face their fate at the mercy of the elements. The BBC reported that the average value of a boat of migrants to traffickers can be more than $1m, which these human trafficking “businesses” receive, regardless of whether their human cargo survive the journey.

Under the current legislation of the 2003 Dublin Regulation, if the boat is picked up by a European naval or coast guard service, or is fortunate enough to dock on dry land, the first European country to offer assistance is responsible for the adequate protection and provision of the illegals. The purpose of this convention is firstly, to allocate the responsibility for asylum applications to one member state to prevent situations where an asylum seeker is passed from one country to another without anyone prepared to examine the merits of the claim, and secondly, to deal with ‘asylum-shopping'[ref]Sandgren, P.(2001). The Dublin Convention, The University of Lund p.1[/ref], when an asylum seeker lodges applications in several different countries at the same time.

Article 8 of the Dublin Convention establishes that if the asylum seeker has never been in contact with any state within the EU, the asylum seeker is not allowed to freely choose in which state he or she wishes to lodge an application; instead, the state whose territory he or she enters is responsible[ref]Sandgren, P.(2001). The Dublin Convention, The University of Lund, p.18[/ref].

Unfortunately, the instrument has not functioned as intended, partly due to subjective determinations of whether a country is ‘safe’. For example, a refugee from Iraq who traveled through Egypt to get to Italy may have their asylum claim refused if the authorities deem Egypt to be the first safe state traveled through.

Europe’s Schengen Acquis adds further strain to these major immigrant receiving countries. Both the Dublin Convention and the Schengen Agreement deal with the allocation of responsibility for processing asylum claims. The existence of borderless travel among European States can result in further complications, such as an asylum seeker refused refuge in France being deported back to the original state he or she initially came through.

Even those who make it across the Mediterranean to the continent are not guaranteed safety or comfort. The UNHCR highlighted that some governments are more concerned about keeping people out than treating them as individuals who may be fleeing war or persecution. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, noted that “Security and immigration management are concerns for any country, but policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up becoming collateral damage,”.

The strain is also greatly felt by the Greek and Italian economies. The Economist estimates that these naval and humanitarian operations cost Italy €9.5 million a month. Neither Greece nor Italy is in a position to begin to look after up to 5000 immigrants per weekend. Angelino Alfano – Italy’s Interior Minister, has repeatedly insisted the European Union must relieve the pressure on Italy’s services. Instead, the UN has had to step in and provide assistance for the 350,000 people stranded on Europe’s shores. These figures are three times higher than in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts in Libya, which saw a previous annual high of 70,000 people.

Frontex, the EU agency that manages the cooperation between national border controls, and help prevent illegal immigration, human trafficking and terrorist infiltration, has a budget of €89.1 million. Frontex is able to coordinate border surveillance operations, but its role is not to replace border control of national authorities, but rather to provide ‘those EU countries that face an increased migratory pressure’ with additional assistance. This assistance and extra funding has not been enough, though, to cope with the demand for search and rescue operations, as illustrated by the thousands of deaths that have occurred in the past year alone.

The EU currently runs a border control operation called Triton to help these vulnerable European states. However, it cannot pre-empt problems occurring in international waters and is limited in remit and legal capacity, as it can only act when lives are immediately at risk. Deborah Haynes of The Times notes that with the recruitment of 6,000 extremists to ISIS since October, this North African and Middle Eastern migration is set to grow. For a number of geographically “peripheral” and often vulnerable states, the Dublin Convention is unsustainable. Its enactment preserves landlocked countries such as Austria and Hungary, along with more remote countries like the UK and Ireland from the brunt of this humanitarian crisis, while Italy’s exposed peninsula must deal with almost everything that fate and circumstance throws at it.

With IS having recently incited Egypt, Jordan, Japan, and Australia through provocative terror and publicity videos, the consequences of the fear spreading from the Middle East has already resulted in increased military action, which will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping events for the foreseeable future. With President Obama having just asked Congress to formally authorize military force against the Islamic State group, there seems little sign of stability just yet.

No man is an island, but neither is any nation. For now, the International community must view the IS threat and Libyan migration within the context of International Security. Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, is doing admirable work but other European States also need to take responsibility and send aid. In 2012, Germany was the third highest recipient and host of refugees in the world, supporting 589,700 refugees. However, there is great disparity across Europe, with the UK hosting just shy of 150,000 individuals and Ireland accepting an embarrassing total of just 6000.

There has to be a full-scale and collective effort to deal with the thousands of people who are drowning in the Mediterranean, especially in the coming months when the seas become calmer and the migration season begins again.

Image courtesy of noborder network

Avatar photo

About Robert Sellar

Robert is currently finishing up his Masters in Terrorism and Political Violence at Georgetown University on exchange from the University of St Andrews, where he obtained his undergraduate in International Relations. He grew up in Dublin and moved to Belfast when he was a teenager, and so can be British or Irish on demand. He has spent time in Africa and is interested in international security, law and humanitarian issues that affect our world today.

Like Us On Facebook

Facebook Pagelike Widget

Donate to Global Politics

The team of academics and students who work at Global Politics do so on a voluntary basis. If you like our content please consider making a donation to help meet the increasingly high running costs of the site.

Privacy Policy

To learn more about how Global Politics uses cookies please refer to our Privacy Policy.