Migrants and 'fortress Europe', after the Lampedusa tragedy
Will the new EUROSUR change
the mediterranean cemetery?
Adrienne Popovic, Julia Rohsmann
Brussels (IHECS Alumni) 09/03/2014

The European Border Surveillance System, also called EUROSUR, became operational on the 2nd of December 2013. EUROSUR provides a protected communication network between European countries and FRONTEX and pursues three goals: to fight against cross-border crime, to reduce irregular immigration and to ensure the protection and rescue of migrants in European waters. But some doubt the compatibility of the last two claims.

Until December 2013, the external borders of the European Union were monitored by the national patrols of individual member states, with the support of FRONTEX. FRONTEX is an independent agency based in Warsaw which manages cooperation at the external borders of the European member states. Including EU offices, there were 50 different agencies involved in preventing illegal immigration. EUROSUR is now linking those different agencies with a standardized communication system managed by FRONTEX. The way of monitoring the Mediterranean Sea has greatly evolved as well and now includes high technology material, upgrading patrolling boats to satellites and drones.

The new EUROSUR mechanism became operational two months after the tragedy of Lampedusa, when in October 2013, around 289 people coming mainly from Eritrea died in the Mediterranean Sea. But the implementation of that system is not a result of the tragedy, since EUROSUR has been in the works since 2008. The Commission proposed the text in December 2011 and as the system was meant to become operational in December 2013, the Parliament worked on it in October. MEP’s voted the text with a substantial majority: 479 votes of the votes were in favor, 101 against and 20 were abstentions. The Green alliance voted against it as other groups didn’t follow their amendments which intended to give more importance to human lives saving.

*Questions about the new mechanism

According to ‘United’, a Dutch agency fighting for refugee’s rights, 16.264 migrants died in the Mediterranean between 1993 and 2012, although an accepted estimate is 20.000 in the past twenty years. And yet EUROSUR doesn’t seem to be a direct response to the high number of migrants that have died in the European waters. This monitoring system was planned and created from the beginning to strengthen European borders and to make them even more impenetrable. Several human rights organizations such as “Human Rights Watch” and “The European Association for the Defense of Human Rights” complained that the rescue of refugees was not a priority and that the system will mainly serve to fight what is called “illegal immigration” and to stop refugees. Concerning the sea rescuing aim, Yves Pascouau, Senior Policy Analyst at the “European Policy Center”, explains that ‘Member states have been really reluctant to put those provisions into the regulation because they consider it to be a pull-factor for migrants when they say “well okay there is a FRONTEX operation at sea we can take anyone on board and everyone will be saved”’.

However, according to Cecilia Malström, the EU commissioner for Internal Affairs, the new program will help to save lives because boats in distress would be easier to detect. But the concept of ‘distress’ is not defined anywhere in the regulation. This leaves space to wonder what exactly is meant with ‘distress’. Is distress hen the motorboat engine is broken or when a boat is too small for the number of migrants on it? It seems that rescuing remains a sensitive issue and that Member States still refrain from adopting a regulation which should define the substantial and procedural rules regarding rescue and disembarkation of migrants in danger, which have to be followed by Member States and FRONTEX.

Another question we can raise concerns the ‘no pushing back’ principle, which forbids Member States to send a migrant back to a country where his life could be in danger. Indeed, the EUROSUR regulation clearly expresses that through the system, Member States have to respect the fundamental rights and in particularly this principle. But will the States respect it, especially now in the light of how easy it is to detect incoming migrants with the new high-tech material available to protect the borders? Reality shows that some countries have the tendency to push back migrants, without respecting the formal rules, to reduce the official number of asylum applicants. According Yves Pascouau: “We are now in the situation where on the paper we have to respect human rights but in reality and in concrete actions this now needs to be assessed, evaluated and to a certain extent monitored”.

*National initiatives

Since the launch of the program in December 2013, a big Italian operation called ‘Mare Nostrum’ saved 200 migrants the 1st of January and 1.100 migrants the 6th of February. ‘Mare Nostrum’ is a rescue operation which was launched last October with the participation of personnel, naval units and aircraft from the Italian Navy, the Army, the Carabinieri, the Coast Guard as well as police officers, with the aim to control migration flows. It is the Italian response to the tragic shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa. It is a national initiative, not officially linked to EUROSUR but certainly source of data and information, according to Federico Fossi from “the United Nations High Commissariat for Refugees”. It is not clear how long this operation is going to last, some speculate until the end of March, but it shows that national authorities are performing the duty of securing lives at the sea as well. It also demonstrates that ultimately the responsibility of saving migrants rests on member states’ shoulders because they are the ones who have to intervene in reality.

*Are the two goals of EUROSUR compatible?

We can clearly observe a real imbalanced policy at the EU level: on one hand, EU borders and irregular migration are highly monitored, and on the other hand, there is no development of legal ways regarding migration. A big focus has been put on border management, but the same effort has not been put into the development of legal migration policy, which is why so many migrants are taking irregular paths and are risking their lives. So, to avoid migrants dying at sea the EU also needs to think broadly, keeping in mind that a full migration policy not only stands one leg which is the irregular migration leg but also stands on a second leg which embodies the legal migration side. This is the question of the possibility of a future common migration policy in the Union. FRONTEX knows that it is under high scrutiny from civil society and that it now has to do its best to save people in distress. We will see if EUROSUR will be used on a security basis approach or will be used to save people’s lives. We are now confronted with these two hypotheses.

Adrienne Popovic
Julia Rohsmann

Brussels (IHECS alumni) 09/03/2014

Debating Europe
Executive Master in European Journalism 2014

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