Author: Jon Henley
Secure migrant processing camps that may be set up in Europe under a deal reached by EU leaders risk becoming de facto detention centres breaching basic human rights, campaigners have said.
The summit’s vaguely-worded conclusions after marathon talks in Brussels gave no details of what the “controlled centres” would look like or which states might volunteer to host them, but diplomats said they could resemble “improved versions” of existing – and heavily criticised – EU “hotspots” set up in Greece and Italy.
“Rapid and secure processing” at the proposed EU-funded centres would allow economic migrants to be identified and returned home, the statement said, while those identified as “in need of international protection” would be resettled in EU states which agreed to take them “on the principle of solidarity”.
Arrivals across the Mediterranean have fallen by more than 90% compared with 2015, but a political crisis has erupted across the bloc, with deep divisions emerging among member states about how to handle the problem.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, the refugee and migrant rights programme director for Amnesty International, said the latest plan looked like “more of the same”.
The proposals made the prospect of “lengthy and indefinite detention” look more likely, he said, in potential breach of EU and international law and the convention on human rights.
Catherine Woollard, the secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said her organisation’s prime concern was that the centres could become permanent detention hubs, particularly for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected but cannot be returned.
“We would also be concerned about them possibly becoming magnets for smuggling and trafficking groups,” she said, adding that some potential host countries the EU might approach, such as Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia or Serbia, had “serious problems” with organised crime.
Further issues, including ensuring refugees’ rights to legal assistance and appeal, could arise if the EU gets into the business of processing asylum claims under EU asylum law in countries outside the EU or trying to join.
The European commission introduced its controversial hotspots – intended as hubs where arrivals in so-called frontline states would be fingerprinted, identified, registered and moved on – as part of an effort to streamline the reception of asylum seekers at the height of the 2015 migration crisis.
Ten centres, five in Italy and five in Greece, were opened, but EU member states failed to accept even a small fraction of the refugees they had pledged to take, so the centres rapidly turned into squalid, overcrowded camps.
According to an official EU audit last year, migrants’ lives were plagued by a shocking lack of basic security, water, decent food, blankets and medical facilities. Sexual abuse and exploitation of the large numbers of unaccompanied minors in the camps was widespread, adding to concern about fundamental human rights violations including the deprivation of liberty.
“In Greece, people have been held for a very long time, in terrible conditions, basically trapped and with no progress at all to resolve their asylum claim … or establish who is responsible for them,” Valdez-Symonds said.
The Danish Refugee Council last year found evidence of a broad range of rights violations, including de facto detention. Humanitarian standards were branded appalling in some hotspots: the Moria camp in Lesbos, built to house 1,800 people, was holding 6,250 migrants and asylum seekers at one point, but only had one functioning latrine.
Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said on Friday after a five-day visit to Greece that the country must process asylum claims significantly faster and relocate asylum seekers from its islands, where many continue to live in cramped and dangerous conditions.