Belgian minister suggests closing migrant smuggling routes
Belgium’s migration minister Theo Francken told Reuters on Thursday that African migrants should be turned back if they pay human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean into the EU
Published: May 14, 2017, 8:35 am
“This system is totally crazy and it does not work. We must be clear: a ticket for a smuggling boat is not an admission for free access to the European continent,” says state secretary Francken.
The current system of incorporating people into the country because they were brought by human traffickers is “totally inhumane,” says Francken. He made clear his comments referred to all Africans – north as well as sub-Saharan.
In short, Francken also believes people arriving with the help of smugglers across the Mediterranean should be returned. Only then can the EU use legal means to check refugees and migrants and control an annual maximum, according to Francken.
He says they must be returned to Libya – the country from which they usually leave or to other countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt or Algeria.
“Do that for a couple of weeks and the refugee stream stops. Nobody wants to pay thousands of euros to get in Tunisia, Morocco or Egypt,” Francken pointed out. “The rumor will spread quickly that it has finished.”
Francken, a member of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party, emphasized that this view was his personal vision and not a position of the Belgian government.
Many reports have fingered so-called NGOs who assist the human traffickers, and are funded by the UN and EU groups to “rescue” Africans just off the coast of Libya.
The migrants know there’s a 99 percent certainty that they will be entering Europe as “refugees” this way. EU laws now forbid sending them back to Libya, and repatriating those whose asylum cases fail are mostly unsuccessful.
Charlotte Vandycke, director of Refugee Work Flanders, an association that helps refugees, reacted furiously to Francken’s suggestions. “Push-backs” to intercept boat refugees at sea and send them back immediately, “is illegal, even if politicians call for it”, Vandycke said.
Until the infamous “Hirsi, Jamaa and others versus Italy” case in 2009, push-backs were a common practice. The Italian Coast Guard intercepted a group of Somali and Eritrean refugees in a boat and sent them back to Libya without hearing them, giving them no opportunity to apply for asylum.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that this was illegal, and this ruling effectively put an end to the pushback policy.
But Francken was essentially also defending immigration by suggesting that other Eastern European countries should accept quotas, even though he argued that Europe applies humanitarian laws too broadly. “More legal routes, more resettlement, no problem,” he added. “Europe is a house and we are discussing to which room people entering the house have to move to. But first of all we have to talk about the front door, which is totally open now.”
He also defended an EU deal with Turkey in 2016, and the EU now working with Libya to curb arrivals of African migrants. In 2016, Belgium registered only 18 710 asylum applications, compared to 44 760 in 2015, thanks to Turkey.
But as Libya is essentially a failed state after NATO’s bombing campaign, a similar deal with Tripoli would not yield the same results. “The numbers will only increase this year,” Francken said. “We will have more deaths and people drowning and many more people coming to Italy.”
In Ghent, a lecture by Francken on Wednesday evening was interrupted four times by activists who read “testimonies” from migrants in closed asylum centers. Before the lecture, the police stopped a dozen anarchists on St. Peter’s Square.
“There are 620 people who are interested in listening, and twenty students disrupting by speaking uninvited,” said Francken. “Right-wing students should try to do that.”
Students from the ancient Catholic right-wing student fraternity, the Katholiek Vlaams Hoogstudenten Verbond (KVHV), later chanted “Left-wing rats, rolls your mats” and “Leftists go home!”
In essence, Francken lectured on the four “current challenges” in the EU, being asylum, terrorism and radicalism, nationality and finally repatriation of migrants. According to Francken, the discussion about the elimination of dual nationality was the most difficult issue in the migration debate.
He pointed out, among other things, the problems with expats, but also the 18 countries that deny access to Belgian nationality.
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