This article originally appeared in il manifesto global.
The European Union is proposing to repatriate one million irregular migrants by 2017. And pending deportation they can be detained in centers for up to 18 months, including children, even though the majority of member states don’t provide for restrictive measures against minors. Precisely for this reason, and to avoid possible obstacles, Brussels is calling on governments to pass national legislation paving the way for the detention of migrant children.
The new measures are part of a plan devised by the European Commission to try to put an end to migration flows, which will be discussed at the European Council on March 9 and 10. These are just recommendations, and as such are not mandatory for member states. However, it’s sufficient to imagine what will happen in the coming months. And one can bet that, pressed by the important elections, there will be a few governments willing to immediately apply the new guidelines.
And despite their threats, Brussels has still not adopted sanctions against the states that refuse to accept asylum seekers entering Greece and Italy. The plan devised by the European Commission proposed relocating 160,000 refugees by September. But only 13,546 have been relocated, including 3,936 from Italy and 9,610 from Greece. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he and Immigration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos have not ruled out actions against defaulting states, but he quickly added, “We are not there yet.”
Europe is in a hurry and wants to speed up departure times. The Commission calculated that only 36 percent of agreed deportations have been carried out. As a result, the charter flights taking migrants back are “only half full,” said an E.U. source. To Brussels, then, at least one million migrants are still in European territory. They arrived at this figure by calculating that “in 2015, 533,395 irregular migrants were expelled, while 470,080 were expelled in 2014.”
It should be taken into account that there were approximately 2.6 million requests for asylum in 2015–2016. In the first three quarters of 2016, only 57 percent have achieved a positive response. Everyone else, in theory, would have to be repatriated, which won’t happen. Adding up all these figures, the plan concludes: “States may have to repatriate over a million people.”
Brussels has already allocated €200 million to carry out those deportations, but the Commission is now also inviting countries to set up new centers from which the migrants should be expelled, offering support to Italy and Greece to pay for them. The centers are for detaining migrants who refuse to cooperate or might flee. Minors can
also be detained, a possibility provided for in article 17 of the 2008 directive on repatriations.
Avramopoulos warned, however, that the centers “should never be considered something like a concentration camp” and must ensure respect for human rights. But according to Italian sources, if Rome applies the Commission’s recommendation the government could force tens of thousands of irregular migrants into closed camps.
Brussels wants to put an end to the departures from North Africa, and the only way to do this is to step up operations in the central Mediterranean. This means establishing bilateral agreements with Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, the three countries that Europe considers crucial to block the flow. To the point that on Thursday German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Cairo to build a “close cooperation” with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In the coming weeks, the new Libyan Coast Guard trained by the European “Operation Sophia” should also be in force. Meanwhile, the Commission supports the IOM program to repatriate 5,000 migrants from Libya.