By Dr. Neil Falzon, Director of aditus foundation on the release of Our Island II – a compilation of 12 personal stories told by people arriving to Malta in search for security and opportunities.
It is a tired cliché to say that the migration discourse tends to ignore the very human stories that populate it. On the one hand, this is understandable, since it is close to impossible to even fathom, let alone give proper attention to, the sheer variety of characters and histories with millions of people on the move. On the other hand, and perhaps more pessimistically, the task’s impossibility is exacerbated by a lack of interest. Put simply, characters and histories disappear because it is partly thanks to their absence that we can take the necessary steps to block, control, detain, suppress, shame and dehumanise. You cannot dehumanise a statistic.
Whilst we do not attempt the impossible – we are not documenting and engaging with all stories – we are nonetheless firm believers in an approach that is not merely humane but human-centric. Yet also this exercise is prone to becoming a cliché, whereby portrayals of migrants become stylised accounts that fit predetermined story or profile moulds – putting forward a person’s life as an example of the goal we are striving to attain with our public awareness-raising or our advocacy to government counterparts: the tireless hero crossing the Sahara desert, the brave woman who stood up to village elders, the innocent child playing in the dirt, the young man who just got his medical degree.
Our Island II attempts to span a wide range of emotions and experiences: the anxiety caused by being locked up, surprise at a Maltese woman’s flirtatiousness, peer pressure within one’s own ethnic community, helplessness at being perpetually undocumented, pure joy at being united with family members, stress due to the constant need to ‘integrate’. Immigration or protection status is not important. Neither is country of origin. You are told nothing beyond what the stories themselves recount, because nothing is more important than the stories. Twelve stories: Nicky, Adil, Farah, Michael, Mary, Sekou, Agnes, Omar, Emad, Dursa, Hana, Ousman. Well, 11 stories and Emad’s poem.
The book is free of aditus foundation’s judgement, comment, critique or analysis regarding how Malta handles relevant complex themes such as integration, detention, vulnerable persons, solidarity, citizenship and rescue at sea. Clearly, we have our views on all of these themes, and we have been quite outspoken on most if not all of them. Yet we strongly feel that Our Island II is not the place to use a contributor’s story as a springboard for our commentary. Our voice is absent, in order for the 12 voices to be given centre stage and to dialogue with the reader.
As you read through the stories, you will be invited into 12 very different worlds. You will get to know our contributors and be given a glimpse of their lives in Malta. They are indeed very different worlds, yet united by possibly two significant elements: the relationship between Malta and all narrators is based on otherness; and their protagonists are, quite honestly, regular people.
Ultimately, if we might be permitted one advocacy message in Our Island II: Personal Accounts of Refugees in Malta, it is an appeal to not limit your interaction with our authors to their heroic stories. Engage with the moments, yes. Empathise with the characters. But stopping there, at instances of heroism, would be superficial and an injustice to the protagonists.
Look for the regular guy, the man who’s probably your colleague, the woman you stand next to each morning on the bus stop, that kid reading on the doorstep. They’re heroes, yes. But, first and foremost, they’re just like you and I.
For further information:
The Op-ed is based on the introduction of Our Island II and approved by the author.
ECRE publishes op-eds by commentators with relevant experience and expertise in the field who want to contribute to the debate on refugee rights in Europe. The views expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect ECRE positions.
Last week, Maltese and Italian ships picked up 435 people on the Med. 124 were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard. As weather conditions enables more departures from the North African coast towards Europe UNHCR urges EU politics to focus on saving lives.
Last weekend a Maltese armed forces patrol boat rescued 216 people from two dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea and brought them to Malta to examine their health and give them the opportunity to seek asylum. On Wednesday the Maltese navy rescued another 75 people found clinging to a tuna pen. The Maltese military stated it had coordinated multiple joint rescue operations in conjunction with the Italian coast guard and “in support of the Libyan coast guard.”
After finding 54 people from Pakistan onboard a sailboat off the coast of Calabria, Italian authorities took them to a migrant centre and reportedly arrested two Russian nationals onboard the US-flagged boat on human smuggling charges. On Thursday, an Italian Navy ship intervened to rescue 90 migrants aboard a rubber dinghy that had been in difficulty since Wednesday morning off the coast of Libya. On the day of the recue, the NGO Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for people in distress in the Med, stated in a Tweet that the Italian vessel “had monitored the boat in distress yesterday already and could have rescued them earlier. This act of #non-assistance risked the lives of 90 people. Now these survivors have to be brought to a port of safety in #Italy.” According to the migrants a 5-year-old girl had died on board while waiting for rescue but no deaths have been confirmed.
After the interception and return of 290 people last week, the Libyan coast guard said it picked up 124 people in two rubber boats off the city of Zuwara and returned them to Tripoli, Libya, despite reports on on-going fighting and abuse. According to the NGO Sea watch their reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird spotted nearby vessels that did not immediately engage in rescue.
As weather conditions improve, the number of departures from the North African coast grows. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that two boats carrying a total of 103 migrants arrived on the island of Lampedusa having left Libya three days before. In light of the recent European election a representative of UNHCR Germany, Dominik Bartsch, stated “every day that passes is costing the lives of men, women and children. No matter what the parliament and the commission are going to look like, saving the lives of people needs to take priority.” The EU needed a binding quota system to distribute those rescued, Bartsch further said.
On Thursday, UNHCR announced, that amid violent clashes and a deteriorating security situation in Tripoli they evacuated 149 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers to Rome. In 2019, more than 500 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean according to the International Organisation for Migration.
For further information:
- ECRE, A Contingency Plan for Disembarkation and Relocation, January 2019
- ECRE, Italy: Salvini Faces Headwind from Two Fronts, May 2019
- ECRE, Tragedy and Chaos Continues on the Mediterranean, May 2019
- ECRE, Continued Stand Off over Rescued Migrants Unfolds in European Waters, April 2019
- ECRE, Spain: Open Arms Search and Rescue Vessel Denied Permission to Conduct Mission, January 2019
- ECRE, Malta Charges Five Rescued Migrants with ‘Terrorist Activities’ while Facts Remain Unclear, April 2019
Lawyers of the Bar Association of Izmir were arbitrarily detained in the Harmandalı Removal Centre during a visit to meet with asylum seekers.
On 14 May 2019, a group of eight lawyers and one interpreter who entered Harmandalı were held in the interview room of the facility for over three hours, without any explanation and despite calls for help. The Governorate of Izmir has rebutted the allegations, stating that the duration of the lawyers’ stay in the interview room was shorter and the camera footage showed no signs of calls for help. According to figures quoted in its statement, a total of 1,578 consultations with lawyers took place in the Removal Centre in 2018, and another 533 so far in 2019.
According to the press statement issued by the Bar Association, this incident is part of a broader series of human rights violations against detainees and their legal representatives in the Harmandalı Removal Centre, including poor living conditions and unduly restrictive rules on access. Access of lawyers remains challenging in many detention facilities in Turkey, although practice varies according to Removal Centre. Over the past year, Harmandalı and other centres (Istanbul, Gaziantep, Kırikkale) have introduced additional barriers as they now require the presence of interpreters under oath for lawyers’ meetings with clients.
For further information:
*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.
The Home Office has issued interim guidance on age assessment of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, following a successful challenge of its policy in the case of BF (Eritrea) before the Court of Appeal.
In its ruling of 23 May 2019, the Court of Appeal held that the Home Office policy on age assessment, which gave Immigration Officers the power to decide an applicant is adult if their appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest the person is “significantly over 18”, was not sufficiently precise as to avoid huge differences in how it was applied, giving rise to the risk that children would be wrongly deemed adults and treated as such in the asylum system.
According to the new guidance, published on 29 May 2019, “for a person to be assessed as an adult in these circumstances, their physical appearance and demeanour must very strongly suggest that they are 25 years of age or over.
For further information:
*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.
REPORTS & NGO ACTIONS
A comparative report published by AIDA, managed by ECRE, provides an update to ECRE’s analysis of reception systems in Europe following the steady decrease in arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers in the past three years.
While the past years have undoubtedly exposed a low level of preparedness for large numbers of arrivals of refugees and migrants in most countries, reception practice in 2018 confirms that fluctuations in the numbers of arrivals continue to create important challenges for administrations such as inability to offer accommodation to new asylum seekers, and resort to improvised emergency accommodation. This includes cases where countries have prematurely reduced their reception capacity and have become unprepared to deal with recent increases in arrivals or backlogs of pending cases.
For some countries, shortages in reception capacity are a chronic problem, regardless of fluctuations in arrivals of people seeking protection. As detailed in the report, these countries have systematically been unable to accommodate all asylum seekers on their territory and have embedded emergency accommodation as a permanent component of their system, thereby raising questions of systematic non-compliance with EU law.
Those asylum seekers who obtain a protection status face severe barriers to moving out of reception centres and securing accommodation, a right guaranteed by EU law. High rent prices and reluctance of landlords to rent their property to refugees, as well as legal ‘catch 22’ situations are frequent in practice. As a result of these barriers, status holders often continue to reside in reception facilities for asylum seekers for prolonged periods. In a number of countries, despite a series of measures established by states to ensure accommodation can be found, the above obstacles create real risks of destitution and homelessness for beneficiaries of protection.
*This information was first published by AIDA, managed by ECRE.
According to NGOs at least 16 Syrians, some registered with the UN Refuge Agency (UNHCR), were summarily deported from Lebanon despite expressing fears of persecution and torture. While the Lebanese authorities denies the allegations, pressure to return is mounting amid renewed violence and displacement in Syria.
The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), Legal Agenda, Frontiers Rights, Access Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch state that Lebanon deported at least 16 Syrians on 26 April upon their arrival in Beirut by forcing them to sign ‘voluntary’ repatriation forms. Lebanon's General Security Directorate stated that it "categorically denies it forced any Syrian to sign any form."
However, the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is increasingly difficult. According to Human Rights Watch 74 per cent of Syrians in Lebanon now lack legal residency exposing them to exploitation, possible detention with limited access to work, education and health care. Lebanese president, Michel Aoun recently stated that Lebanon would not survive if half a million Palestinian and 1.6 million Syrian refugees were to remain in the country and called on Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) to help solving the issue “by persuading Western countries to accept the refugees’ return to their countries as soon as possible.”
Escalating fighting and bombardments including on civilians and infrastructure have caused massive displacement in northwest Syria. More than 200,000 people have been displaced since the end of April. With no permission to cross the Turkey border where a 764 km wall is sealing off access the displaced are trapped and in need of food and protection. The UN has called for a ceasefire and assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Ursula Mueller stated in her briefing to the UN Security Council: "Can't this council take any concrete action when attacks on schools and hospitals have become a war tactic that no longer sparks outrage?"
UNHCR estimates that 5.6 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and another 6.6 million people are internally displaced. According to European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) Lebanon has the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world amounting to 30 per cent of the country’s population.
Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, working on migration, borders and security. He is the author of No Go World: How fear is redrawing our maps and infecting our politics (University of California Press 2019) and Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe (University of California Press 2014).
Your book Illegality, Inc. was released in 2014 and focuses on efforts of the EU and its member states to curtail irregular migration along the Spanish-African borders. A year later the EU experienced a stark increase in arrivals which led to migration taking up more space in public debate and politics. How do you think your book would be different if you had done your research in 2015?
Migration has been a salient topic at the southern EU borders over many years and the events in 2015 were not the first of their kind to be framed as a crisis. For example, already in 2006, the arrival of around 30 000 people from West Africa to the Canary Islands had sparked a large-scale emergency response by Spain and the new EU border agency, Frontex, though the numbers seem low compared to the situation in 2015.
2015 was perhaps distinct in two ways: there was a stark increase in arrivals of people fleeing conflict, and the political stakes were ramped up across the EU. However, it is telling that we saw the same logic at work as on earlier occasions, which I had researched in West and North Africa from 2010 onwards. Politicians yet again played up the narrative of threat and emergency and the primary response became strengthening border guards and ramping up security operations to crack down on migration, which in turn involved offering ever-larger economic and political concessions to “partner countries” such as Turkey. Countries such as Spain had been engaging in these strategies for years – yet now, from 2015 onwards, the EU as a whole became busy selling them as a “new solution”.
Regarding my approach in the book, the shift in magnitude in 2015 needed a deeper engagement with the politics of emergency and fear – and this is what I have tried to do in my new book, No Go World. The callous deterrence and criminalisation policies since this time would also have shifted my take on humanitarianism and activism in Illegality, Inc. – we have seen a repoliticisation of humanitarianism in the face of political crackdowns. The book was quite focused on the national case of Spain, but I’m excited to see today’s increasing research focus on the growing role of international organisation such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as well as on EU-level strategies for externalising migration control, which have become both disturbingly opaque and extremely well-funded.
In Illegality Inc. you’ve already addressed the ambiguous relation between efforts to seal off the borders in the name of security and humanitarian narratives. How did you see these playing out in the recent years?
In recent years we have seen a shift in the politics of humanitarianism. From 2006 onwards, Spain pioneered on the face of it a more “benevolent” kind of border control, which appropriated humanitarian discourse and practice. Humanitarian arguments became more and more explicitly used to justify a politics of deterrence. A commonly evoked argument was “not to let them drown” by preventing people from leaving African coastlines, “for their own good”, as it were. While the humanitarian-security nexus came to a head in Italy’s “Mare Nostrum” operation of 2013-14, since then we’ve moved into what some have called a post-humanitarian moment of ever harsher deterrence. We’re seeing pushbacks at the borders, cooperation with Libyan coast guards, the usage of suffering in Libya as means of deterrence, and the deployment of security forces in the Sahara desert. Besides the cuts to EU naval patrols, and so to rescue capabilities, we have also seen the de facto criminalisation of NGO rescues and solidarity across various EU member states. It seems that today practices at EU borders and beyond aimed at “managing” migration completely sidestep humanitarian concerns and with that the fundamental values of the EU. Even so, lip service is still paid at times to the strange idea that harsh border deterrence and detention in what even the Italian foreign ministry has called the “hell” of Libya are somehow “humanitarian”.
The EU operation Sophia, as part of the EU's 2015 Agenda on Migration, is focused on combatting human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean. Why do you think this strategy is ill-founded?
The focus on militarily cracking down on smuggling and trafficking by targeting boats has proven a terrible choice in practice, as various reports have made clear and as many of us predicted before the operation’s launch. Politically, however, it has proven rather effective. Let’s remember that the operation was launched following large media attention to the mass drownings of spring 2015 outside Lampedusa. This launch of a mission to “combat smuggling” shifted the blame away from the EU and its member states for failing to continue with Mare Nostrum-style rescues - smugglers became a convenient political scapegoat. Practically, military and border security operations have been shown time and again to contribute to the strengthening of smuggling networks since crackdown on safer entry routes opens the market further for smuggling businesses. Such security operations also include all kinds of perverse incentives, as in the cooperation with Libyan border guards, many with militia affiliation, who are often involved in smuggling themselves. Border guards in “partner states” keep benefiting on both sides – on the one hand, by collaborating in European externalised controls, and on the other, in facilitating migration. In addition, the destruction of boats through operation Sophia has driven people to choose ever more precarious means to cross and contributed to the rising death toll on the Med.
How does your new book No-Go World approach the topic of migration?
My new book is concerned in part with the domestic politics around fears of migration stirred by emergency rhetoric, but it places this politics in the much wider context of international security interventions of all kinds. In it, I explore the intersections of different security agendas and the increasing overlap between migration control and counter-terrorism, how peace-keeping comes into the picture, and how they work to reinforce a negative spiral.
The book takes a longer historical perspective and shows that migration is not a self-contained phenomenon. Taking a step back proves essential to reflect on the continuity, or return, of earlier historical patterns. For example, I look at how relations of domination become manifest in the short-sighted interest of “fighting migration” and terrorism in the Sahara and the Sahel. Colonial powers once created various forms of buffers to problem areas in order to contain threats of different kinds in the “margins of empire”. Today, we can see a strikingly similar phenomenon in the proliferation of “no-go” zones in seemingly remote areas in the Sahel-Sahara belt and elsewhere, including in the Horn of Africa and in the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands. My book depicts how migration politics increasingly feeds into this political mapping of danger and security intervention.
Strategically, it is also disturbing to observe how, similarly to colonial times, the EU and its Member States use different forms of buy-ins to convince other countries to collaborate in the controls of their own populations, or of foreigners on their territory. Today, regimes with shaky democratic credentials are leaned upon and incentivised, with a lot of money and political capital, to crack down on human movement, much of which is not even Europe-bound in the first place. In Niger, for instance, the EU and its member states are pushing heavily for militarised controls and harsh crackdowns. Yet this is a country that has long had an intricate cross-border economy with Libya as well as free movement for West African citizens, both of which are imperilled by such crackdowns.
However, many partner states and their populations see through these projects and make it harder and harder to implement them solely according to the interest of Western actors. In a positive sense, we have seen this when the reluctance of African states to cooperate in EU plans for regional disembarkation platforms, or in suspicions or protests among ordinary people in countries such as Niger. In a negative sense, we see it in how countries like Niger, Senegal, Mauritania, the Gambia and Mali used to be content with small pay-offs but today they ask for much higher sums for their collaboration in harsh border control. The fears around migration created in European politics, and of course, the example of pay-offs to Turkey, gives them increasing leverage and they know it.
Your book No Go World talks about how fear is "infecting our politics". How does fear influence EU policy-making and who benefits from it?
Far right politicians have managed to keep up the sense of a “crisis” though numbers have fallen sharply since 2015, and we see a similar pattern in the United States with the trumped-up border emergency. But it’s not just far right and nationalist forces but also the political mainstream – including EU officials – that seems to have adopted the crisis mode as normal.
On the one hand, this situation shows the political potency of fear, of how a doomsday scenario of “invasion” can be used along racial, religious and geographical lines on either side of the Atlantic. On the other hand and in a more practical sense, it shows that as soon as the crisis mode has taken on its own momentum, it becomes a mind frame that is ever harder to exit because this is how things are set up – border fences, sea patrols, crackdowns in neighbouring countries, buy-ins from the defense sector and international organisations, etc… Also academics are buying into this crisis mode, unfortunately, trying to address the “crisis of migration” and offering short-term policy solutions. In my first book I looked into how this self-sustaining industry emerges and keeps on growing because various interest are served by the crisis framing. That is even more evident today, as on both political and economic levels the gains are huge to keep blasting on all cylinders.
What can we do to counter the instrumentalisation of fear and how should European politicians, but also media and academics, approach the current politics of migration?
We need to snap out of the crisis mode for a start. Crisis is supposed to imply a turning point, but it’s now become perennial and self-sustaining with severe effects on our politics and on the relationship between European and African states. The risk is that we reinforce this by playing along, for instance through various “emergency grants” on refugee-related research in academia, or through short-term plug-ins to “solve the problem”. I think we must step back and with a cool head take stock of how “security” is making us more unsafe: of who gains and who loses when we are spending so much money and political capital on “combating” this or that phenomenon. Such stock-taking may help build real coalitions for change, as we’ve seen for instance in the growing political resistance against the war on drugs by those who face its worst consequences. But we also need another political narrative, perhaps of practical hope or shared protection, to counteract the tempting story of fear that on many levels have come to dominate our politics.
Choose Respect: Together We Can Tackle Anti-Migrant Hate Speech. Hate speech against migrants and refugees is all too common, both online and in the real world. But it isn’t always easy to know how to react effectively – and it’s even harder to respond in a way which changes attitudes. In the run-up to elections, politics is a frequent topic of debate. But if the discussion turns nasty – either around the dinner table or on your social media feed – here are some tips to help you make a constructive contribution to a more positive discourse.
- Several Dates in May/June, Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre Public Seminar Series, University of Oxford
- 3-5 June 2019, London, Refugee Law Initiative Fourth Annual Conference, ‘Rethinking the “Regional” in Refugee Law and Policy’, Refugee Law Initiative
- 20 June, The Hague, EMEN Annual Event: Innovative financing solutions for migrant entrepreneurs? Cross your own borders, European Migrant Entrepreneurship Network
- 24-28 June 2019, Nottingham, Summer School 2019 - Development Aid and Migration, Human Rights Law Centre, University of Nottingham
- 17-28 June 2019, Geneva, Summer School on Global and Regional Migration Governance, University of Geneva
- 26-28 June 2019, The Hague, 2019 World Conference on Statelessness and Inclusion, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
- 1- 5 July 2019, Budapest, Conceptualising, Navigating and Representing the Field in Migration Studies, Central European University, Summer University
- 1- 12 July 2019, Brussels, 2019 Summer School on EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, Odysseus Network
- 3-5 July 2019, Geneva, 2019 UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs, UNHCR
- 29 July- 2 August 2019, Tilburg, Statelessness Summer Course: Global Focus 2019, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
- 27- 30 August 2019, London, Geographies of Trouble/ Geographies of Hope, 2019 Annual International Conference, Royal Geographical Society- IBG
CALLS FOR PAPERS & OPEN CALLS