OPINION – The challenge of the migrant problem in Europe

*The author is a faculty member at Sakarya University's International Relations Department and works at the Center for Diaspora Studies. ISTANBUL The largest migration movement in the modern period occurred during World War II. More than 50 million people were forcibly uprooted from their habitats and forced to migrate between 1939 and 1950. In 2014, for the first time since World War II, the number of displaced people worldwide exceeded 50 million. In 2023, more than 90 million people were forced to migrate due to conflicts, violence, human rights violations, and torture. After the establishment of the UNHCR, in 1951, the legal foundation for these efforts was provided by the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. In addition to the primary texts regulating international forced migration and refugee rights such as the Geneva and New York Conventions, many other regional or national conventions provide complementary protection. With the collapse of the Soviet regime and the acceleration of globalization, a series of conventions such as the Dublin Regulation (1990), the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), the Tampere Summit (1999), and the Malta Declaration (2002) have been implemented in the EU region to regulate the asylum claims emerging in Europe. Although the EU does not have a common migration and refugee policy, many joint agreements were signed between 2000 and 2020. The international migration regime, which emerged on humanitarian grounds in 1951, had become insufficient to serve human rights and the security of people, especially after the 2000s, when migration was seen as a security problem and securitized in the EU region. EU member states have introduced a series of new regulations that have tried to turn the EU region into an insular, almost protected fortress. The divergence between Universal Human Rights Law and European Law On the one hand, the EU is trying to establish a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) that is relatively respectful of human rights, such as the Malta Declaration (2002), the European Refugee Fund (2007), and the Lisbon Treaty (2007). On the other hand, EU countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Greece are trying to deprive people of their fundamental human rights such as asylum, shelter, and protection through their national regulations. The erection of barbed wires and walls on borders, the abduction of asylum seekers by land with rubber bullets, gas bombs, and masked persons, the return of asylum seekers after being beaten, or the pushing back or capsizing of boats by coast guards at sea have become among the daily routine border practices of EU states. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) was established in 2004 to ensure border security. Its budget increased from pound 6 million in 2005 to pound 254 million in 2016 and pound 845 million in 2023. Rather than helping regulate migration, the security measures taken have become an obstacle to asylum seekers even submitting asylum requests to EU member states. Asylum seekers who leave their homes out of fear for their lives may lose their lives in the search for safety. Between 2014 and 2023 alone, 26,689 asylum seekers died in the Mediterranean Sea. NGOs and their staff who rescue drowning asylum-seekers in the Mediterranean and try to deliver humanitarian aid risk being accused of human trafficking, breaking the law, and facing prison sentences. As long as development took place, European countries respected international migration, human rights, and refugee law, and took policy steps by the law. The 1973 oil crisis, the economic contraction in the 80s, the economic volatility that followed the collapse of the Eastern bloc in the 90s, and the 2008 financial crisis, which still continue to have an impact, pushed the EU to impose limitations on the universality of human rights and refugee law. Adding to the economic crises of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the actions of al-Qaeda and Daesh, and the waves of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan migration, EU politics and society have tended to feel under a new attack. The EU's critical political actors believe that the EU itself is under attack by Muslim migrants and will collapse, just as the Roman Empire collapsed due to the migrations of Germanic and Hun tribes. With this in mind, far-right and racist political views and parties are rising and gradually becoming the central parties in European politics. Even parties that position themselves as egalitarian, respectful of human rights, and libertarian produce right-wing populist discourses and political discourse that excludes immigrants, refugees, and foreigners. The future of migration problem caught between globalization and regionalization For the EU, migration policy is two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, there is the increasingly popular far-right racist discourse that sees itself under siege and even invasion by Muslim and Black migrants. On the other side, there is the necessity to continue the blood renewal that the EU needs from outside the EU to ensure economic growth and a stable presence in the world technology market due to its aging and declining population. In this respect, the EU's common migration policies, border security strategies, the establishment and upgrading of FRONTEX, the 30 readmission agreements with states near and far, and the UK's attempts to abolish asylum applications are issues that need to be carefully considered. In the last days of 2022, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the child of an immigrant family, announced that asylum seekers who come to the country through irregular migration and seek asylum would be arrested and sent to their country or a third country, in violation of the international human rights convention, and that these people will not have the right to come to the UK for life. Although it is guaranteed by international texts to process all asylum claims without any discrimination and to provide protection to asylum seekers, similar statements have started to emerge from many EU member state politicians. There have been not only readmission agreements but also bilateral agreements with countries of origin or neighboring countries where the demand for asylum is high in exchange for money and economic support to establish concentration camps violating human rights. Libya is one of the places where this is done in violation of human rights. The EU provides money, ships, and equipment to restructure and equip Libya's coast guard to stop asylum seekers' movement to Europe via Libya. In return for this aid, which amounts to pound 200 million annually, the Libyan coast guard has established a "Search and Rescue Zone" in the Mediterranean. Asylum seekers caught during regular checks are arrested and taken to prisons in Libya. Despite the living conditions in these prisons, the torture and rape they are subjected to, the violation of human rights and dignity, and the calls of international human rights organizations, the EU continues to maintain this partnership with Libya. Similarly, with the new refugee law, the UK plans to send asylum seekers to a refugee camp in Rwanda before their asylum applications are received. Accordingly, asylum claims will not be processed in the UK but will be processed in Rwanda. Rwanda will be paid £120 million for the costs of asylum seekers. The UK has implemented a similar readmission agreement with Albania. In April 2023, the parliament of EU member Lithuania voted to reject asylum seekers at the border and push them back. Similarly, EU member states such as Spain, Poland, Latvia, Greece, and Hungary continue to use daily push-backs, classified as torture by the Council of Europe, and seek to legalize them. 2 fundamental problems There are two fundamental problems with international migration and refugee law. The first is that the right to seek asylum is limited to the five articles of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which include persecution on race, religion, ethnic origin, political opinion, or membership of a social group. Secondly, the right to protection and non-refoulment is limited to persons whose refugee status has been recognized. These two situations prevent asylum-seekers, especially those fleeing torture, murder, and death, from being quickly secured. International legal texts treat asylum and refugee rights equally regarding protection. However, in practice, countries such as the UK, Greece, Libya, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Spain discriminate between asylum seekers and refugees and deny people the right to apply for asylum by preventing them from crossing borders through push-back practices. They claim these people are not refugees and do not violate human rights and international agreements. Although there are still reactions from international organizations such as the European Court of Human Rights and the UNHCR, these reactions remain weak, and many political moves are made to prevent their implementation. Thus, Western states and societies, which claim to be the defenders of human rights and dignity, increasingly see human rights as a right that belongs only to Western states and societies, dehumanizing the rest of the world. Finally, the issue of acceptance and non-refoulment of asylum seekers who can apply to EU member states will become increasingly complex. EU member states accept a high proportion of applications from asylum seekers threatened by conventional war and civil war. Nevertheless, asylum claims due to terrorism, invasion, epidemics, famine, economic depression, and climate disasters are much less accepted. However, more than 25 million people face climate-related forced migration today. Therefore, international human rights and refugee law must be reformed, considering the new global problem areas and the EU's regulations and practices that violate human rights. **Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

Source: Anadolu Agency