Thursday, September 30, 2004

Asylum camps run into trouble

The Council of Interior Ministers is meeting in the Netherlands and high on the agenda is the proposition to have camps for asylum seekers outside the EU. This idea has gone through various permutations.

It was first proposed by the UK at the Thessaloniki Council last year, where it was “quietly shelved”. Nasty Brits being xenophobic, again. But you can’t keep a good idea down. It surfaced as a German proposal, backed by the Italian government and the incoming Italian Commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione. The idea was that now that we are all so pally with Libya (well, some of us more than others, to be fair) we should pay for camps to be set up there. In fact, EU representatives have already been to Tripoli to discuss the matter. As Deutsche Welle puts it:

“During a recent trip to Tripoli, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisano said plans to set up asylum camps in Libya would go ahead no matter what. Italy also signed an agreement with Libya on the training of local police to crack down on illegal immigrants.”
This has caused a certain amount of fluttering in the NGO dovecots. Amnesty Germany’s Julia Duchrow said:

“We have great, great problems with the human rights situation in Libya, and we know of many people, from Eritrea for example, who have been detained in Libya. They have been sent back then to Eritrea and are now in military camps. We fear that they are tortured and we can't get access to them.”
One rather wonders whether Frau Duchrow has problems with Libya chairing the UN’s Human Rights Commission. No comment from Amnesty International or, as far as one knows, the country-based Amnesty organizations has ever been heard. Come to think of it, what does Amnesty think of Sudan being on that Commission? Or of Libya now demanding that in view of its excellent behaviour recently, it should be given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? (For what it’s worth, this blog’s view is that everybody should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. They all deserve it.)

The other grand idea was proposed by Austria a couple of weeks ago. Asylum processing camps should be set up in Ukraine. At the time it was presented as a way of solving Austria’s own problems with Chechnyan and other asylum seekers from the Caucasus. Now, it seems, they are more worried about the way the new influx has affected the newer member states (soemthing that the EU had been warned about when the negotiations were going on).

We have already propsed certain variations on the theme of the asylum seekers’ camps in Ukraine. Perhaps the Austrian government listened to us, because they have announced that the idea was going to work as it has been discussed with the Baltic governments, the Czech, Hungarian and Polish governments and various others.

Alas, the one government that was not approached was the Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has issued an angry statement:

“Ukraine has not received any official appeals from the EU member states on this matter. Any public discussions of the issue are improper essentially, without preliminary official consultations with the government of Ukraine.”
Fair enough, especially when one bears in mind the fairly recent history of camps, then other camps, then yet more camps in Ukraine.

What is going to happen about this mess? There is some bleating on the need to distinguish economic migrants from asylum seekers. One wonders what is so wrong with economic migrants as long as they get jobs and obey the laws of the country they are in. On another level, have these people asked why we have so many economic migrants? Could our trade and agricultural policies that prevent economic development in numerous Third World countries have anything to do with this? Could our aid policy that keeps corrupt oppressive dictators in place be in some ways responsible? Not us, surely, guv. We mean the best. But let us remember that if we persist in not buying surplus goods, we shall go on acquiring the surplus people.

Then there are the troubles in the Caucasus. These are more difficult to deal with since the Russians insist that Chechnya, Ingushetiya and Dagestan are part of the Russian Federal Republic and, therefore, the people there can be dealt with as the government and the security forces see fit. (And what a success they have had in eradicating terrorism.)

Georgia, on the other hand, is not part of the Russian Federation, though President Putin forgets this from time to time. The Georgian government would like to get rid of the terrorists but wants to do so without Russian “help”, having had some historical experience of it. Why is the West not supporting President Saakashvili more strongly? Come to think of it, why is the West not trying to exert just a smidgeon more pressure on Russia, to try to sort out the Chechnyan mess? That could be made a condition of the entry into the WTO, instead of the wholly inappropriate and ridiculous one about Kyoto.

Either way, asylum seekers’ camps in countries with dubious human rights records and corrupt political and law-enforcing systems does not seem to be the right answer in either short or long term.

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