Resettlement vs right of asylum

AEDH European Association for the protection of Human Rights
APDHA Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, Spain
AMDH Association Marocaine des Droits Humains, Morocco
ARCI, Italy
ASDHOM Association pour la défense des droits de l’homme au Maroc
ATMF Association des travailleurs maghrébins en France
CEAR (Spanish Refugee Council), Spain
GISTI Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrés, France
France Amérique latine
Ligue belge des droits de l’homme (Belgique)
MRAP Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (France)

April 2006

Assertions of the European commissioner Frattini that « when thousands of people are ready to die in order to gain a future in Europe, it means that the fortress is indefensible »could lead one to think that the European asylum and immigration policies will eventually move towards an opening. However he makes no proposition to bring a concrete answer. Day after day, drama after drama at the European borders, the discourse is still the reinforcement of the existing cooperations and the establishment of partnerships planned years ago in the European Union agenda.

Thus, from the «burden sharing» to the necessary taking into account «of the external dimension of asylum»,the European rhetorics aim to convince us that the EU asylum policy pertains to a shared responsibility between member States and the transit countries crossed by refugees in search of protection. Upon these countries would be incumbent the duty to increase their implication in an international asylum system in which European countries are yet less and less concerned (asylum applications have decreased by 30% between 2003 and 2005 in the EU, which receives only about 5% of the refugees in the world). While the most geographically exposed EU countries (Greece, Italy, the new member States) are to play the border-keepers, the nearest neighbours, such as North African countries, are asked to take their part in the reception of exiles, in the name of a would-be «fair sharing» of responsibilities. Even if it means to turn a blind eye on the infringement of the rights of migrants and asylum applicants, victims of this division of tasks. When Frattini declares, referring to the murder and deportation of migrants by Moroccan soldiers, that «it is useless to accuse and blame people»,he also tends to absolve the Italian (collective deportation to Libya) or Maltese (systematic detention of asylum applicants) situations.

In this context of externalization of asylum policy by which the European Union discards its international obligations, disregarding fundamental rights, the European Commission [1], supported by the UNHCR, is promoting a refugees protection tool rarely used until now: resettlement. Noting that the great majority of people who flew persecutions find a shelter near their origin region in considerable precariousness (refugee camps), the Commission proposes to organize, after the (pre)determination of their status by the UNHCR in the transit countries, the transfer towards EU Sates of the then selected asylum applicants, for a permanent reception. This «long-lasting solution», presented as a solidarity gesture of Europe towards the countries of first asylum, would also present the interest to avoid a hazardous journey and to offer a «protected entry proceeding» to refugees deprived of legal means to cross occidental borders. The reality will no doubt be quite different.

Resettlement, an international management tool of the refugees issue, is not novel, and has allowed for many years many people to build new lives far away from the Asian or African camps, by combining the duty of solidarity with the needs of the reception countries: the main countries which practice it have (or have had) an active immigration policy (Canada, USA, Australia). Nothing prevents the desiring European States to use it, as some of them do on a voluntary basis. In return, encouraging resettlement as an element of the European asylum policy would amount to confirm the two-fold EU tendency :

 externalize the selection of the exiles outside the borders, without being encumbered by the constraints of the national reception procedures for asylum applicants.

 organize selectively the reception of a «chosen» immigration, with the sole consideration of EU own needs.

Several NGOs, especially the ones which at the European level federate associations advocating the right of asylum, actively support a European reinstallation program. Even if they emphasize the necessity to consider it only as a complementarysolution to the existing asylum rules, there are reasons to fear that such a program would become the alternativeenvisioned by the Member States{}to avoid the treatment of «spontaneous» asylum applications (those presented by the exiles who succeed to reach Europe). EU would then follow the example of Australia, which gave up the respect of the Geneva Convention in the examination of asylum applications of exiles illegally entered on its territory.

Some reactions to the Ceuta and Melilla drama in October 2005 are predicting signs of this orientation. Characterizing as a «humanitarian crisis» the desperate confrontation of hundreds exiles with the over-protected borders of the Spanish enclaves in Morocco, and the violent subsequent repression,they minimize the fact that, regarding the conditions predominating in the countries they flew, many of them are in demand of an international protection. By pleading for new answers to this «crisis», one takes the risk of favoring the implementation - in Morocco today, in other buffer countries soon - of collective solutions in the shape of reception centers or transit camps under the control of international organizations. It would thus encourage the EU filtering policy, and legitimate the negation of the individual rights of potential refugees. What are the chances, for an exile who flew his village after having denounced to justice a young girl’s death as the result of an excision, to be heard from a transit camp in Sahara, whereas on the same grounds he/she could hope to apply for protection in France or Germany?

Far from being a solution for refugees, resettlement, in the context of a European asylum policy characterized by the bypassing of international obligations, is a supplementary weapon against the circulation of migrants. After charters, borders militarization, closed camps, readmission and sea interception agreements, the sanctuarization of EU is under achievement. Resettlement consolidates the structure. Whereas only the free circulation of the victims of persecutions is apt to guarantee the respect of the right of asylum, Europe could then, with a clear conscience, put exiles under house arrest in camps outside its borders, with the support of those same who ask for the implementation of legal tools for refugees to access the Member States. With resettlement, EU would certainly succeed in making us forget that it makes its own interest prevail on the protection of the victims of persecutions. How much time will it take to understand that EU rejects its own founding principles, in particular the one providing that « the Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by (...) the universality and indivisibility of human rights and respect for international law»?

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