European immigration policies: Human rights abuses denounced

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European Ministers in charge of immigration met Monday in Brussels. French Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, announced that he favoured the creation of an European immigration police. The project has been criticised by human rights organisations who have pointed out loopholes in the plan’s related policies. UNHCR has also expressed serious reservations about the same issue, while warning France about its decision to dismantle “the jungle”, a makeshift immigrant camp in Calais, this week.

Already a fortress, Europe is still reinforcing its borders. French Immigration Minister, Eric Besson Monday presented a project proposal on the creation of an European border police to his European counterparts. The proposal indicates that the unit would be attached to Frontex, — otherwise known as Frontières extérieures or External Borders and officially called European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union – established in 2005 and based in Warsaw, Poland. Frontex is in charge of the European Union’s border security. Currently the agency has under its umbrella two main units; Rapid (land) Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) and Coastal Patrols known as European Patrols Network (EPN), composed of border guards from the various Schengen member states. “The plan does not offer anything new, it rather deepens and consolidates a process” whose motivational force “we strongly condemn,” said Patrick Delouvin, a director from the French division of Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is particularly critical with respect to the deportation of refugees to Greece in accordance with the Dublin II Regulation. The regulation requires asylum or illegal immigrants to be processed in the first European Union member state they come to. Greece, according to a communiqué from the NGO, has “deficiencies” in its asylum procedure.

Loopholes that have caused numerous human rights breaches are generally blamed for the lack of cooperation among many EU peripheral states. Monday, both the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Commission criticised the deportation of migrants to Libya, a country that is neither signatory to the Geneva Convention for the protection of human rights nor has the “required conditions” to accommodate them. Human Rights Watch has also denounced the “mal-treatments and beatings” of immigrants in “overcrowded camps with appalling sanitary conditions.” All these conditions did not serve as a deterring factor when Eric Besson decided to “ask Libya to participate in Frontex operations in the Mediterranean”, Patrick Delouvin denounces. In a rather contradictory move at a press conference Monday in Brussels, Mr. Besson demanded for more to be done to strengthen the role of UNHCR in Libya and Turkey, two countries highly criticised for their poor human rights record.

The jungle cleared

The European ministers’ meeting took place in the backdrop of a controversial remark that was made, last week, by the French Interior Minister and former Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux. The remark, deemed racist by many, was made as he posed for photographs with a young man of north African descent during a party function. Before the Minister’s remark, someone was heard in the background saying “Amin is Catholic. He consumes pork and drinks alcohol.” The minister responded: “He doesn’t match the prototype. We always need one. It is when there are lots of them that there are problems.” The remarks have been widely condemned as racist, but according to Mr. Hortefeux he was only referring to the number of photographs that was being taken and nothing else.

The meeting also coincides with a September 17 announcement about the closure of the “jungle” by the end of the week. The “jungle” is a makeshift migrant camp in Calais, northern France. The main objective of migrants at the camp is to reach the United Kingdom.

According to Patrick Delouvin, “the repeated crackdowns against makeshift shelters inhabited by refugees have been a cause of concern since April.” The number of refugees around Calais has, reportedly, gone down from 700 to 300, and the destruction of the remnants of their makeshift camps cannot resolve the bigger problem, according to benevolent organisations that take care of them.

Quoted by, Father Jean-Pierre Boutoille, member of C-sur, points his finger at French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had ordered the closure of a shelter at Sangatte “without making room for a replacement, without finding another solution.” In a meeting with Eric Besson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres “insisted” “on the need to protect” refugees “particularly the several unaccompanied minors,” reports the UN. A statement released by French ruling party UMP gives a somewhat different version. The end of the Red Cross camp, according to Nicolas Sarkozy, marks “the beginning of the fight against the exploitation of human misery and its (related) consequences. ”

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