Politics or Human Rights? Why the EU Turns Its Back on Humanitarian Assistance to Refugees

The recent immigration report on Eritrea, written by the Danish government, is a blatant example of  the direction the European governments are taking in terms of refugee protection. The report,...

The recent immigration report on Eritrea, written by the Danish government, is a blatant example of  the direction the European governments are taking in terms of refugee protection. The report, which premised its outcome and recommendations on discussions and interviews with government officials, claims that the Eritrean government is already reforming the country’s legal and human rights system and that it may not necessitate the need for asylum seeking. Moreover, the report indicated that the asylum seeking process is being hijacked by profiteers.

Civil societies have rightly opposed and condemned the report for its obvious flaws. As rightly raised by Human Right Watch, the review of asylum and refugee policy should not be based on what the Eritrean government officials claim to do or will be doing, but what is actually happening on the ground. This is better understood from the citizens and victims of the government repression. Moreover, there are existing reports from the United Nations’ human rights investigation in Eritrea, which in 2013 detailed terrible human rights abuses of the Eritrean government. By releasing the report, which is reflected in the already tightening of asylum conditions, Denmark will be violating the guidelines outlined by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which links implementing border control and immigration with clear enforcement of human rights abuse.

eritrean torture

But the Danish report, and of course subsequent tightened refugee and asylum policy of the government, also shows the orientation of many  European governments and politicians on refugee, asylum, and on a broader view, immigration policies. As a result of dwindling economic fortunes of Europe, especially since the global economic meltdown that started in 2008, there has been rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric of rightwing and nationalist politicians. They tend to scapegoat immigrants including refugees and asylum seekers for the economic woes of Europe. This is premised on the ground that immigrants put pressure on existing infrastructures and economy, thus forcing the state to commit more resources on welfare state. This gained currency among certain layers of the population of Europe. The Norwegian massacre of 2012, the attacks on immigrants in some European cities, and recent rise of ultra-nationalist and far-right parties in such countries like France, Britain, and Scandinavia reflects this. In the European Parliament, far right and ultra-nationalist parties have a significant number of members elected recently.

This shows that anti-immigration is gaining value among a section of the European population, which itself can be linked with growing disillusionment and frustration with the economic situation. The mainstream governments and parties, whilst not totally or openly accepting the seeming xenophobia of ultra-nationalist and far-right parties, have tried to shift their immigration policies to capture the sentiment of the anti-immigration section of the population, ostensibly to court their votes, even if they are not in majority or even decisive minority. This has meant tightening of immigration and asylum policies across Europe. While Denmark might have gone far, the reality is that other European countries have also introduced some restrictive measures. For instance, Britain refused to allow African and Mediterranean refugees coming from port town of Calais in France to cross to Britain. This was premised on the ground that they are ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ immigrants, and on security concerns. Indeed, tiny fractions of those seeking asylum status or migrating to United Kingdom are granted access, even when the population growth is in the negative. This was in 2003, but more than a decade after, the pattern has not changed. Also France and Italy have tightened border security to prevent the wrongly-termed ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ immigrants. Most of these immigrants and refugees are from war-torn, conflict-ridden, politically-repressive and economic-ruined countries, with most of them searching for jobs that will provide little coins to send back home to families. Therefore, it is no accident that they are desperate to escape to the ‘European Greener Pasture’.

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European governments must not bow to far right politics, but rather cultivate humanitarian culture that seeks Human protection as fundamental rights. Moreover Africans and people from the third world should be considered, not as burden, but as a fellow human being. Europe needs to combat fast rising ultra-nationalism and creeping racism. Human Rights’ movement in Europe, being a platform of unity, must raise awareness against racism and far right ideologies. Moreover humanitarian organisations’ movement in Europe and civil society must support African people in their struggle for better societies.

To know more:

Human Right Watch, Denmark: Eritrea Immigration Report Deeply Flawed, (Online), http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/17/denmark-eritrea-immigration-report-deeply-flawed, (December 17, 2014), Accessed 30 December, 2014

AFP, Eritrea under fire for rights abuses at UN review, (Online), Eritrea Daily, http://www.eritreadaily.net/News2014/UPR2014.htm, (3 February, 2014),

Sirtori, S. and Coelho, P., Defending Refugees Access to Protection in Europe, Controlling Border While Ensuring Protection, ECRE, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=496355e72&query=african%20refugees%20in%20europe, (December, 2007)

Randall M., Asylum and Immigration; Comparing the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent, Media Lens, www.medialens.org/alerts/03/031208_Asylum_Immigration.htm, (08 December, 2003)

Politics or Human Rights? Why the EU Turns Its Back on Humanitarian Assistance to Refugees
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Mehari Fisseha

Mehari has graduated in Law and European Studies (Hons) from University of Limerick – Ireland; holds a Master degree in Peacebuilding from Coventry University – UK and a Master degree in Criminal Justice, Governance and Police science from Bochum University, Germany. He worked for refugee community in Ireland. He also worked for CARDOZO School of Law – Human Rights and Genocide clinic. Mehari is a passionate advocate on Human Rights and Development issues. He is also interested in the reform of the United Nations.
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