11 July 2014

A new report by Amnesty International entitled The Human Cost of Fortress Europe, highlights how EU policies and border control practices are preventing refugees from accessing asylum in the EU and putting their lives at risk.

In order to prevent the arrival of people on its territory, Amnesty argues that the EU has funded sophisticated surveillance systems, given financial support to Member States at its external borders, such as Bulgaria and Greece, to increase border controls and has entered into cooperation arrangements with neighbouring countries in order to prevent migrants from  travelling irregularly to Europe.

According to the report, between 2007 and 2013, the EU spent nearly €2 billion on border controls, but only €700 million under the Refugee Fund to support asylum procedures, reception services and the resettlement and integration of refugees.

Amnesty highlights that after the Greek authorities launched Operation Aspida (Shield) in mid-August 2012 to guard the Greek-Turkish border fewer than 10 migrants a week were detected crossing the border in October 2012, down from 2,000 in the first week of August of that year.

With certain borders almost closed, migrants and refugees are thus forced to take even more dangerous routes and risk their lives to reach safety in Europe. According to estimates, more than 23,000 people have died trying to reach Europe since 2000. In the first six months of 2014 alone, over 200 people died at sea.  “Almost half of those trying to enter the EU irregularly flee from conflict or persecution in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia. Refugees must be provided with more ways to enter the EU safely and legally so that they are not forced to embark on perilous journeys in the first place,” states John Dalhuisen from Amnesty International.

Amnesty International also calls on the EU and its Member States to ensure that the human rights of migrants are central to the negotiation and implementation of any migration cooperation agreement with non-EU states.

“EU countries are basically paying neighbouring countries to police their borders for them. The problem is that many of these countries are frequently incapable of guaranteeing the rights of refugees and migrants that are trapped there. Many end up destitute, exploited, harassed and unable to access asylum,” stresses Dalhuisen.

Amnesty International has also launched a new petition this week urging EU leaders to stop cooperating with countries with poor human rights records to restrict migration flows into the EU, to provide more safe and legal routes to Europe, and to strengthen search and rescue operations through a joint effort involving all Member States.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 11 July 2014.
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