How E.U.’s Migration Policy Enables Migrant Smuggling
Statewatch’s Chris Jones says the European Union Border and Coast Guard Agency is less concerned with human rights and far more preoccupied with border control, surveillance and the interception of migrants
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
It was revealed on Thursday that the European Union’s border agency Frontex has been targeting vulnerable migrants for intelligence gathering. Civil liberties monitoring group Statewatch reported on Thursday that the guidelines produced for border guards instruct the targeting of migrants from minority ethnic groups and individuals who may have been isolated or mistreated during their journey as such people are more willing to talk about their experiences.
Now, debriefing officers were recommended to seek out potential interviewees as soon as possible after arrival as, “Once arriving migrates integrate with others in the camp, there is a tendency for them to become more reluctant to cooperate.” So, there are apparently no instructions on what to do regarding any possible need for medical attention or for legal information for any claims for protection.
Responding to these revelations, Chris Jones, who is a researcher with Statewatch, said, “Border guards participating in Frontex operations are undoubtedly aware of the appalling conditions to which migrants and refugees are subjected during their journeys, yet these guidelines make no mention of a duty of care or protection, which should be the priorities of an agency that claims it upholds fundamental rights in all of its activities.”
Joining us today, we do have Chris Jones here from Statewatch. He is also, as I said, a researcher where he has worked since 2010. His work examines policing, migration, military and security issues in the U.K. and in the E.U.
Chris, we appreciate you being here. Thank you.
CHRIS JONES: Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: Chris, can we start this off by describing what Frontex is, who they are, and how you came into being in possession of these guidelines?
CHRIS JONES: Yeah. Frontex is the European Union… now, it’s now officially called the European Union Border and Coast Guard Agency. Frontex is an abbreviated version of the French for external frontiers. It’s basically the E.U.’s border guards, which takes part in various operations at the borders of the European Union using border guards seconded to it, and police officers seconded to it, from European Union member states’ border agencies, so debriefing officers, border guards, surveillance specialists and so on.
The document in question is a set of guidelines which was attached to an operational plan for something called Operation Hera which is ongoing off the coast of West Africa, between West Africa and the Canary Islands, which is Spanish territory, to try and stop people traveling, usually in perilous, little boats from West Africa to the Canary Islands.
An organization based in Berlin called the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights made an official request to access the documents to Frontex for information related to Operation Hera, received a lot of documents — included amongst them was this document, which contained the information we decided to highlight recently regarding their treatment of, in their words, “isolated or mistreated individuals.”
KIM BROWN: These policies, which explicitly outline the targeting of vulnerable persons and potential victims of violence purely for the purposes of intelligence-gathering makes for some very disturbing reading. How do you explain the callousness with which these policies appear to be drafted and enacted?
CHRIS JONES: Well, I mean, human rights groups, legal specialists and so on, they’ve long accused Frontex of being far less concerned with human rights and far more concerned with border control, surveillance and the interception of migrants, which is the majority of its mandates. It has something called a Consultative Forum On Fundamental Rights which was set up in 2012, and in their reports they do say since then that Frontex’s debriefing guidelines have been altered, but no one knows apart from them and the agency, to what extent. This document dates from 2012.
The framework surrounding the drafting of these kind of guidelines is that irregular migration to the European Union is viewed as sort of a criminal phenomenon which needs to be stopped through the deployment of quasi-military means, the deployment of various surveillance systems, fences, dogs, boats, planes and so on. So the gathering of intelligence is seen as necessary to understand the routes that migrants take to reach the European Union and how they come to arrive here — however it be, by boat or on foot, due to a lack of means available to them to travel legally.
KIM BROWN: Chris, in your response to these revelations, you said in part, “The purpose of debriefing is to try to counter a problem that is largely a result of the E.U.’s inhumane migration policy. A lack of legal pathways to enter the E.U. simply boosts the phenomenon of migrant smuggling that our governments say that they are so determined to prevent.” Can you explain further precisely what you mean by that, and how is the E.U.’s migration policy responsible for the problems that they are combating?
CHRIS JONES: Well, over the last two years — I mean, it’s been global news — you’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people arrive in the European Union, many of them originally were passing through Turkey and they used to travel overland, over the Evros River from Turkey to Greece. That route was blocked by large police operations, so people began to travel by sea, which was far more dangerous.
People have been traveling across the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy or Italian territory — islands like Lampedusa — for years. There’s now a military operation in place to, well, in theory to monitor the coast of Libya and try and understand the smuggling networks. It also serves as a rescue operation when migrants’ boats are detected. And, similarly, off the coast of West Africa between Spain and Morocco you’ve had fences and quasi-military patrols set up to deter people from traveling to the E.U. in the first place. The reason they can’t do that, like maybe you or I could, by buying a ticket for a ferry or a plane is that there’s something called carrier sanctions in place, thanks to the 2001 law which says if you’re a transport company, someone tries to get on your plane or your boat and that person doesn’t have the right visa or travel document giving them permission to arrive in the destination country, you can’t let them on board, and if you do you’ll be fined by the government of the country in which you’re operating.
At the minute, there’s a debate going on, the E.U’s visa code is being renegotiated to decide the rules on visas, permissions for lengths of stay, conditions for entry and stay and so on. One part of … European Parliament has said that humanitarian visas, there should be provisions for humanitarian visas. If you go to an E.U. member state embassy in another country and, say I want to apply for a visa, and when I get to France or wherever I’d like to apply for asylum, that possibility should exist. The Council of the E.U. which is made up of the governments of the member states has said, “No way. We’re not interested in that at all.”
So, the fact of the matter is, people are desperate, they want to live in safety — you know, these people are traveling from, well, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia — there are many reasons why people want to leave their countries, and they end up traveling in little boats which are unsafe because there’s no, or very few, legal options for them to enter the E.U. This mode of transport is then treated as a criminal phenomenon, but the fact of the matter is that it’s the policies that exist in the first place instituted by our governments that leave people with no other means other than to use irregular routes.
So, it’s a sort of circular… a downward spiral in the E.U.’s policies create more recourse to irregular migration, which they then say they need to clamp down on, which creates more dangerous routes, and so on and so on.
KIM BROWN: Chris, you know, Statewatch recently published a report from the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights entitled “Opaque and Unaccountable: Frontex Operation Hera.” What is Operation Hera and how is it opaque and unaccountable, in your opinion?
CHRIS JONES: Well, that wasn’t my opinion. That was written by two people who work for the ECCHR, but what they said in that report was that — they’re a legal human rights charity that carry out strategic litigation and such like — and after a workshop related to Operation Hera, they applied for a set of documents from Frontex relating to operational plans, evaluations and analysis related to Operation Hera, and received very little back. They received a lot of documents, most of which were censored with large sections blacked out.
The one we have highlighted contained this section regarding guidelines on targeting “isolated or mistreated” people for interviews. There were also large other sections in that report which had not been censored properly by the agency’s Documents Department, and so they could be uncensored, so to say. Which has actually happened before. There were reports released to American journalists about 200 serious incident reports which involved border guards operating during Frontex operations who had fired at refugees’ boats, which resulted in migrants and refugees being killed, injured, and in some cases killed, and he received 200-odd of these reports which he was able to remove all of the censoring from which enabled him to see what had actually been happening, which arguably is very much in the public interest and not against the interests of national security were that information to be released.
KIM BROWN: How would you describe the current treatment of refugees fleeing violence, war and economic collapse?
CHRIS JONES: Phhht! Appalling? I mean, there’s… the governments of the European Union seem to have largely come to a consensus that enough is enough and we want as few people as possible to arrive in the future. Just today it was reported that the Italian government, the Italian Interior Minister, had 10 mayors from Southern Libyan towns flown into Rome to try to woo them into cooperating with demands, European demands to stop people entering from Libya in the first place. But the European Commission said it’s going to give 200 million euros to Libya to help beef up the border security. The basic idea is, “We don’t want them here,” you know? “They’re potentially terrorists and quite frankly they can stay somewhere else,” which given the image that the E.U. likes to project of itself as the home of human rights and so on, it’s hypocritical, to say the least.
KIM BROWN: In December of last year, Yasha “Massiano” – I hope I’m pronouncing Yasha’s name correctly. She…
CHRIS JONES: Maccanico.
KIM BROWN: Maccanico, thank you very much. She’s one of your colleagues from Statewatch. She told us that only 5% of the target number of refugees had been relocated by the E.U. in over a year. Has anything improved since then?
CHRIS JONES: I think the numbers have increased, but not by very much. This is a scheme that has been a failure from the start, basically. That was to move… to relocate refugees stuck in Italy and Greece to other E.U. member states. All the member states signed up. Some of them had to be dragged to it kicking and screaming, like, Hungary and Slovakia and Poland, and none of the member states have met their quotas that they agreed to when the legislation was signed.
KIM BROWN: Where do you think the E.U. refugee policy is headed over the coming 12 to 24 months, and why?
CHRIS JONES: Well, throwing the Geneva Convention in the dust bin? (laughs)
The minute it seems that the deal that was done with Turkey — give lots of money to refugee initiatives in Turkey in exchange for the Turkish border guards and coast guard blocking exit from Turkey and taking back anyone who does arrive on the Greek islands — that’s seen as being a great success. And in some way people would like to replicate that with North African countries, particularly Libya, which is now where most irregular journeys to the E.U. depart from.
It seems to be largely based on bribing North African and Sub-Saharan, Sahel countries in various ways, saying, “Unless you comply with our migration demands we’ll cut development aid. If you do what we want, then you can have this, this and this.” It’s basically outsourcing the E.U.’s responsibility for people who are seeking protection.
Now, in the first place, people shouldn’t have to put their lives at risk traveling in little boats to come … and ideally, you know, people would be able to claim asylum in countries close to their countries of origin. But the reason this what’s now referred to as the refugee crisis began nearly two years ago now is because people from the Syrian War and other conflicts in the Middle East had spent so long waiting in awful conditions that they’ve had enough, and they thought, you know, “I don’t want my children to grow up in a refugee camp in Jordan. I’ll to go Europe. It’s the continent of human rights and asylum and I’ll try and start a new life there.”
But this is a very long… it’s a very long… sort of long policy trajectory. The E.U.’s policies on this have long been very hard line for a decade or more, two decades, and it’s based towards the ideas of externalization and someone else taking care of the problems that we don’t want to see.
KIM BROWN: What are people doing, and what if anything can people do that you think could help change the direction of the current policy and actually provide humanitarian assistance to refugees?
CHRIS JONES: Well, one of the most inspiring things about the last two years is the amount of people who have gone out to the Greek Islands or to Calais in France or to the border between France and Italy where people are blocked from traveling from Italy to France, and begun to do things for themselves to provide aid and support to people and translation and legal advice, and all these other things, which governments have either been unwilling or unable to do.
Ultimately, the policies need to change, and other things, arguably — the conditions that the people flee in the first place — need to be ameliorated and improved. In the short term, it’s a question, I suppose, of some of those organizations or movements and groups that have arisen to support refugees over the last two years being able to come together and assert political demands in a more organized way.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been speaking with Chris Jones. He is a researcher for Statewatch, where he has worked since 2010. His work examines policing, migration, military and security issues in the U.K. and in the E.U. We have been discussing the European Union’s treatment of migrants and immigrants coming to the area, and whether or not some of their tactics are less humane in the interest of intelligence gathering.
Chris, we appreciation you joining us today. Thank you very much.
CHRIS JONES: Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.