EU Immigration ‘Assistance’ to Italy and Greece Seeks to Block Migrants From Leaving
Yasha Maccanico says suspicion of terrorism is often used as a pretext to ensure that people cannot have any possibility of determining their fate
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In September of 2015, the European Union agreed to resettle 160,000 asylum seekers fleeing the war in Syria and economic strife in the African continent who are now in Italy and Greece. Then last week the EU itself reported that it has only resettled 8,162 people since the launch of their plan.
Furthermore, the EU has signed agreements with Turkey, Afghanistan, Sudan and Nigeria and a few other countries to keep refugees out of Europe and repatriate some of them that they deem questionable. Joining us now to discuss the situation of refugees is Yasha Maccanico. Yasha has been covering Justice and Home Affairs Policies in the EU for Statewatch since 1998. Yasha, so good to have you with us.
YASHA MACCANICO: Hello, it’s very good to be with you.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Yasha, let’s begin with the EU’s target itself, you know, it is a continent that has some of the wealthiest and most advanced countries on Earth. So, how could they be failing to implement their own target, which is really resettling 160,000 refugees. And I must just add that there are millions who have fled the war-torn areas and economic strife. But this resettling 160,000 should not be such a large task for such a big continent.
YASHA MACCANICO: You hit the nail on the head. The problem is beyond the issue of the fact there’s only 5% of the relocations that have been agreed have actually been carried out. The original figure was extremely low. It was only 160,000 people and the people who have entered just by sea in 2015 and 2016 have been more than 1,300,000. So, it was over a million in 2015. So, basically, it’s a deception. The whole idea of the hot spot approach and the relocations as a form of redistributing the burden is a bit of a deceit. Because the other side of the relocations system and the hot spot approach, which has not been spoken about at least at the level of the EU institutions, is that this is a means of excluding lots of people, at least those who are not from the selected nationalities from the possibility of initially applying for asylum. And now it’s been used, this effort which is being described as an attempt to offer assistance to Italy and Greece, which is very limited assistance, considering the numbers that we’re talking about, is actually serving to roll out the EU’s immigration system to develop its agencies and to basically block all the migrants who arrive in Italy and Greece without them having the possibility of leaving the two countries. So, when we see the documents and the documents we were talking about when we were talking about only 5% of the relocations having been carried out, is from 8th December of this year, so only a week ago, practically. And it talks… it exalts the achievements which have been made by the European Union because there has been a considerable increase and this considerable increase means that more than 1,000 people have been relocated in a month. Well, more than 10,000 people have arrived in Italy and Greece over the same month. And the document acknowledges it, although it doesn’t draw the consequences. So, on the one hand we have the Commission being very happy about this improvement and saying maybe we could manage to get, because this is the intention, we could manage to get 3,000 people per month — that’s the goal at the moment: 2,000 from Greece and 1,000 from Italy, but in reality, that’s a drop in the water. Yes, they don’t necessarily stay there for a long time. The problem with the hot spots is that they’ve been… it’s a new concept which has been developed in order for normal rules, regulations, and laws not to apply. Because having a new concept means that you can develop new standard operative procedures is what they’ve called them, which on the surface may be organized in such a way as to respect some sort of human rights concerns. For example, children should not be in hot spots, at least according to the Italian standard operative procedures — children shouldn’t be. They should be sorted upon arrival and then sent to specialized facilities which have staff which is equipped–
SHARMINI PERIES: These are unaccompanied children?
YASHA MACCANICO: Exactly. When I went down to Port Sallow(?) in Sicily in May and we tried to visit the hot spots, I didn’t get in but some colleagues from the MIGREUROP Network did. Basically, all of the people who were being kept in the hot spots were children. According to the rules and operative guidelines which they set up especially for the hot spot procedures, children shouldn’t be there. Everyone in there was a child — that was 114 of 119 of the people who were there. But the adults were in hospital because they caught the measles, I think it was. So, you have a problem of them inventing a new concept in order to set up some new procedures which often escape what the previous regulatory frameworks were. It’s very difficult to observe what happens inside the centers. Then they are most frequently not complied with at all and the situation in Moria Lesbos, was the same. It was largely a holding center where there were large numbers of children.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, on one hand these governments particularly in Lesbos were saying that these hot spots or holding cells are basically there in order to protect the children because some of them as we know from other UN and NGO reports have disappeared and we can’t actually track them. Is this a protective measure?
YASHA MACCANICO: It’s described as a protective measure and also they justify the fact that children are not meant to be there and they are there with the fact that there’s an emergency and there’s an inadequate capacity for the children who arrive. And it’s normal because the system is designed to be unsustainable and to keep a situation of emergency which enables the possibility of not following the rules. Because it is inexplicable that considering what you were saying about Europe being an enormous continent, Europe needing a large amount of migration due to its aging population, and the inability of it to maintain even its social security system without a considerable influx of migrants, they’re trying to allow a restrictive approach to prosper, by ensuring that there is a crisis at the point of arrival. And that’s Italy and Greece at the moment.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Are there any legitimate concerns, I mean, given that the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere on the continent? There is a legitimate fear that they may allow rebels and terrorists to enter through this process. Is there any legitimacy for those kinds of suspicions?
YASHA MACCANICO: There can be some legitimate suspicion but at the moment it looks more like a series of pretexts in order to ensure that people cannot have any possibility of deciding on their fate, of deciding where they go, of deciding… We must consider that a lot of the people who were arriving from Syria and elsewhere were actually people who were fleeing terrorism, who were fleeing Islamic fundamentalism. If we want to use the approach which is being used in risk analysis particularly by Frontex in Europe or at the European Union level, well, everyone is a potential threat.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And are these refugees not entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention on Refugees? And of course, the European Convention on Human Rights as well is a protective measure. Are they not entitled to that?
YASHA MACCANICO: In most cases they are. I would extend that also to a number of the people who are described as economic migrants or just migrants for the purpose of excluding them from asylum procedures because that is the nature of the hot spot approach. In order to acknowledge that Syrians have a right to asylum because it’s hardly deniable by State authorities due to the events that are unfolding there.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Yasha, I feel that. Thank you so much for joining us and have a good night.
YASHA MACCANICO: Thank you very much. I hope it was useful.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.