Michel Euler / POOL / AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a citizenship ceremony in Orleans, central France, on July 27, 2017.

‘Hotspots’ in Libya: French President Macron’s troubling announcement

Article in France 24
28 July, 2017

“French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he wanted to create “hotspots” in Libya this summer where migrants would be pre-screened for asylum claims”. That this announcement is “troubling” is a euphemism.

For those who remember, it is unfortunately not a new idea in Europe : “In the beginning of the current [2004] Iraq war, Tony Blair suggested the creation of refugee camps under the supervision of the EU but outside its territory. His “new vision for refugees”, published in March 2003, foresaw returning those who would apply for asylum in the EU to outside the EU’s borders. His vision was one of a ‘camp universe’, set up by EU officers and made up of Transit Processing Centres (TPC) in front of the gates of the EU, together with the UNHCR and the notorious International Organisation for Migration (IOM). From there they would be able to bring the refugees back to “safe” zones near their regions of origin and select a few for entry into the EU. When that plan became known to the public, it went down in a storm of protest.” (Helmut Dietrich , “The desert front – EU refugee camps in North Africa?”, Konkret (issue 12/2004), translated in Statewatch: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2005/mar/12eu-refugee-camps.htm) (for the Blair memo, see: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/apr/blair-simitis-asile.pdf).

Such an idea is essentially based on two fantasies.

The first fantasy is that, thanks to (hundreds of) billions of euros, one can stop migration through utter repression, operated in faraway countries without any effective accountability for human rights violations – in effect, doing there what human rights courts and institutions prevent one from doing at home –, all the while not responding whatsoever to the push factors (underdevelopment, bad governance, poverty and violence) and pull factors (exploitative jobs in underground labour markets, family reunification, diasporas) of migration movements. As long as push and pull factors will create movements, trying to contain them will deviate some movements, reduce temporarily some numbers, and considerably increase the suffering of migrants. People have always moved and will continue to do so.

The second fantasy is that such a policy choice would entail no long term international, political, financial, developmental, social or moral repercussions in one’s own backyard. This delusion will be morally, politically and financially costly for the Global North. It will drain development resources away from the priorities of the Global South – as the EU is already doing by rerouting development funds into the construction of detention centres, the implementation of integrated border management systems and the training of border and coast guards –, and, pushing migrants further underground, it will increase considerably the power of smuggling rings, unethical recruiters and exploitative employers: a deadly mix for migrants. The implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement has already doubled the number of deaths in the Mediterranean.

Australia is being systematically criticised by every international and Australian human rights institution for its offshore processing centres in Nauru and PNG. This shows how a morally bankrupt idea, developed for pure electoral expediency, can create a political stain that will not wash away (“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”). And the financial cost of this policy is astronomical (over AUD$3Bn per year for 2000 persons in 2015).

Such an example should drive European leaders to explore better long term options: facilitating mobility through progressively increased legalisation, regulation and taxation of migration options at all skill levels.

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