Migrants in Europe have become fair game

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Haunted by colonialism. Schaerbeek, January 2016. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

As the European Union summit starts today (18 February) in Brussels, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, warns that it has become impossible in Europe to have a meaningful discussion about migrant rights, diversity, and integration.

François Crépeau is a professor at McGill University, in Montreal.

Europe has always been a strong advocate of human rights in Europe and elsewhere. In its struggle to maintain control of its borders however, it is being tested on its adherence to human rights. Through slowly stripping away the rights of asylum seekers and migrants, Europe is creating a scary new ‘normal’.

What we now see is European governments focused on feeding their electorate with the fear of migrants for clear electoral purposes. Governments pandering to nationalist populist movements have promised to keep migrants out but have been unable to do so simply because the emphasis on securitisation doesn’t work. European countries must offer safe and regular channels for mobility. It is the only way that European countries will regain full control of their borders.

The operationalisation of the NATO military operation recently announced by European leaders raises many questions.  What will NATO do that Frontex didn’t do? When intercepting a migrant boat, what will the procedure be? Will they embark migrants on their navy ships as the Italians did in Mare Nostrum? If they do, where will they disembark them? To what authority will they transfer them? How will simple pushbacks be prevented? How will they treat the migrants on board? How will they identify protection needs? And how will we know what NATO forces are doing? What civilian oversight mechanisms will be in place to ensure the protection of the rights of the migrants during the operation?

‘Fighting the smugglers’ is a red herring: as long as persons in need of mobility are not provided with official mobility solutions, unofficial channels will be provided by opportunistic smuggling rings. I have repeatedly said that overreliance on securitisation of borders will not work. People will continue to come because they need to survive. And smugglers will continue to adapt, prosper and exploit the migrants as long as their business model is not effectively destroyed. The only way to actually eliminate smuggling is to take over their market by offering regular, safe and cheap mobility solutions, with all the identity and security checks that efficient visa procedures can provide.

It is appalling to see how the discussion concerning migrants has been lowered to the smallest common dominator, feeding off fear and xenophobia and making migrants fair game for all types of verbal or physical abuse. Migrant-bashing has dangerously become the norm and the standard is so low now that to have a meaningful and serene discussion about rights, diversity and integration is often impossible.

Europe must reclaim its role as a moral and political leader of human rights in this debate of fear, stereotyping, racism and xenophobia. I continue to urge European political leaders to show moral and political leadership in fighting much more vigorously racism, xenophobia and hate crime, by consolidating our common human rights culture and strengthening its institutions at all levels, and in celebrating the diversity of cultures and religions as an enrichment for everyone, citizens and foreigners alike.

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