Saturday, August 29, 2015

The reason why some refugees died

Austrian police opened the back of a truck abandoned on the side of a motorway to find the bodies of 71 migrants. They had suffocated after paying smugglers to transport them across the border from neighbouring Hungary. Despite having made it into the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, they still felt the need to travel clandestinely to avoid being fingerprinted and registered for asylum in Hungary, which would have offered them few opportunities to work or integrate.

“This tragedy comes as a cruel reminder that the Dublin Regulation results in death,” commented Hungarian NGO Migszol after the news broke. “What we need is a safe passage through our country, and for that, we need to fight the European legislation.”

Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers registered and fingerprinted in one country, for example Hungary, can be returned there if they later try to register an asylum claim elsewhere, say in Germany or the UK. The rule was designed to determine which member state was responsible for processing an asylum claim and to deter people from registering multiple claims. In practice, northern EU states have used it to avoid processing claims for people already registered in another country - usually frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Hungary. As well as placing additional pressure on frontline states, it forces refugees to stay in a country where they may have no family connections, cannot speak the language, and struggle to support themselves.

Critics point out the rule places an unfair burden on frontline states such as Greece and Italy, which are already struggling to cope with thousands of new arrivals and deters such states from fingerprinting and registering. Italy in particular has been accused of failing to fingerprint a significant portion of the 170,000 migrants who arrived there by boat in 2014. For their part, asylum seekers intent on joining family members in Sweden or Holland, or on finding work in the UK, are extremely reluctant for their fingerprints to be loaded into Eurodac, an EU-wide fingerprint database.

Greg O’Ceallaigh, a London-based barrister who deals with Dublin removals of asylum seekers from the UK back to countries such as Italy, said that many asylum seekers were taking clandestine routes through Europe to evade detection until they reached a country where they had a family member or at least spoke the language. “We see people who have burned the skin off their fingertips in an effort to avoid being fingerprinted,” he told IRIN. “...There does need to be a more politically brave response to all of this; a proper pan-European asylum strategy.”

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