Moving Beyond Security vs. The Duty to Protect: European Asylum and Border Management Policies under Test

Written by | Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Sharon Winblum (Istituto Affari Internazionali)

Donald Tusk declared last year that a situation, in which hundreds of people die on their way to Europe, is unacceptable. Despite of this, most of the steps that have so far been taken to solve the migration crisis have been driven by efforts to prevent the entry of migrants into the EU, rather than by efforts to protect their lives. Securing the border control and protection of migrants, however, do not have to be mutually exclusive.

The first feature determining the current conditions is access to border management. The idea that migration must be prevented has so far prevailed and therefore attention has been paid to border control. The objectives of the former naval operations have changed from providing assistance to strengthening coastal protection. In the meantime, new fences have been erected along the land borders and even between some countries in the Schengen area while elsewhere internal border controls have been reinforced. However, the expectations associated with these measures have not been met. Instead of stopping the influx of migrants, their stream has shifted and the use of smugglers’ services has increased. The externalization of border control has not brought desired outcomes either. Those interested in traveling to Europe bypass the obstacles that are designed to prevent them from entering the ‘Old Continent’. Some migrants originate from countries with which the Union collaborates in this area. And it is in these very same countries where the rights of refugees are also often violated.

The second aspect is the Union’s asylum policy. According to the Dublin mechanism, migrants are obliged to apply for asylum in the EU country in which they first arrive. For the “frontline” countries, this means a considerable burden that they can’t cope with because of their insufficient infrastructure. This leads to delays and even the housing conditions do not meet minimum standards. Migrants are therefore trying to use smugglers to get directly to other EU countries, obtain fake papers, disguise fingerprints and so on. Thus, they endanger their own safety and make it impossible for European countries to regulate and monitor migration flows. The problems are, however, not solved by providing funding to the most affected countries, by building hotspots or by means of the current controversial relocation mechanism.

Ensuring the safety of refugees can be done in three complementary ways. The first one is the opening of more legal ways to get to Europe, which would eliminate the need to seek the smugglers’ services and thus be exposed to the associated risks. A revision of the Dublin mechanism and the system of hotspots would also reduce the pressure on the border Schengen countries and spread the burden more evenly across the EU. Re-evaluation of the cooperation with third countries would thus lead to partnerships only with those states whose asylum policy and the level of respect for human rights is closer to European standards.

(The study can be downloaded here:

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