Can the Mediterranean drownings be stopped?

No one would argue that nothing should be done about the urgent plight of the thousands of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean. Morten Kjærum, the new director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, says that European countries need to pull together to save refugees’ lives.

Can the Mediterranean drownings be stopped?
More than 1,700 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far in 2015. Photo: Darrin Zammut Lupi/MOAS.EU/dpa/Scanpix
The borders of Europe are today the borders in the world with the highest number of casualties. So Europe is still in a situation of finding solutions to the most basic element in refugee protection – namely saving lives.
First and foremost, European countries need to establish a higher level of solidarity. When countries are confronted with major refugee or migration flows a system should be in place different from the current Dublin Regulation, which has proven inadequate in such situations. If all 28 Member States collaborated fully, the pressures currently felt by a few countries – whether they are the point of entry or refugees’ final destination – would be eased.
Second, more legal avenues for people to enter Europe could be created in order to save lives and reduce the demand for human smuggling and the risk of persons becoming victims of human trafficking. The increased number of resettlement places that recently have been agreed upon is an important step in this direction. 
Other avenues such as student visas, family reunification, private sponsor arrangements and other traditional, legal avenues could more frequently be directed towards refugees from Syria and elsewhere. In this way Europe would contribute more to meeting the global needs of refugees.
Thirdly, reception centres could be established across the EU. Common asylum determination procedures and common return programmes for those who do not qualify for protection could be jointly operated. 
Finally, a system of settlement within the EU should be established. Member States have spent a lot of time discussing mathematical formulae to determine the exact number of refugees allocated to each state and according to which criteria. It has to be accepted that no model is perfect but that a common structure, even if it is a compromise, may help Europe more than the current national approaches.
One lesson learned from previous refugee crises in other regions of the world is that international or regional solidarity is an integral part of ensuring refugee protection. A European Refugee Protection System would therefore help to save lives. It would also contribute to defusing the drama and strengthen popular support. It would help to convey a message to the European population that we stand together to address the challenges we face. In the end, these challenges should be manageable in an area with a population of 500 million.
Morten KjærumMorten Kjærum is the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) and the former director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The RWI is holding a panel debate, ‘Boat Refugees in the Mediterranean: Can the Drownings be Stopped?’, on Monday at Sweden’s Lund University. More information is available here

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Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.


Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.