Public Affairs Networking
Time to get facts right on movement of people across the Med
In an article in The Times newspaper today, 13 May 2015, and in an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, made several claims, writes Dr. Dallal Stevens, regarding the European Commission’s proposals on how to address the ‘migration’ crisis in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, a number of her points are inaccurate or misleading and are politicising a humanitarian crisis.
May states:
  • ‘We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys – or which makes it easier for gangs responsible for their misery. That is why the UK will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.’
Resettlement will not encourage more people to travel to the EU. It will actually do the opposite. Resettlement is about taking some refugees from countries struggling to cope with refugee numbers, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which are hosting nearly 4 million Syrian refugees; it is about meeting our international obligations and ensuring that refugees do not have to ‘make perilous journeys’. The UNHCR has called for 20,000 resettlement places per year for the whole of the EU by 2020. This is minimal in the context of the global need for resettlement. Germany has already offered to take 20,000 on its own. The UK has resettled only 143 to date.
  • ‘…we must – and will – resist calls for the mandatory relocation or resettlement of migrants across Europe.’
The Home Secretary makes the common mistake of confusing migrants with refugees. The plans do not propose resettling or relocating migrants. Migrants cannot be resettled – only refugees.  The Commission is proposing two limbs: distributing asylum seekers who have reached the EU, who will then have their claim assessed, and resettling some refugees from outside the EU. In fact, the Commission’s proposal actually seek to improve return and removal of irregular migrants and refused asylum seekers.
  • ‘… we should use military, intelligence and crime fighting assets not only to deliver search and rescue mechanisms, but also to crack down on the traffickers who are putting people at risk.’
There has been much usage of the term ‘trafficker’ but there is a distinction in law between trafficking and smuggling. Human trafficking focuses on exploitation – for example, trafficking for sex or labour through force or fraud; human smuggling is concerned with transportation and the evasion of immigration laws. The vast majority of those crossing the Mediterranean would fall under the smuggling category. In any event, talk of smuggling and trafficking misses the point – a large percentage arriving in the EU from North Africa are refugees or have protection needs – for example, in 2014, 20% were Syrian.
  • ‘The majority of those arriving are often from nations such as Nigeria and Eritrea, where their lives are not at immediate risk.’
Eritreans are at risk.  In 2014, in the UK, the largest number of asylum applications came from Eritreans and 87% were granted protection.
It is time for less politics and more accuracy when discussing asylum and migration.”
Dr Dallal Stevens is an Associate Professor (Reader) at the Law School, University of Warwick
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