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Time for European values, not fear, to take centre stage in migration response

8 March 2017

Ahead of the European Council of 9 and 10 March 2017, Saferworld calls on the EU and Member States to: uphold hard-fought and cherished European values including the protection of human rights; defend global norms on security, migration and conflict prevention; reverse short-term reactive responses that risk reinforcing the dynamics that contribute to violent conflict; and demonstrate greater leadership to address the underlying drivers of displacement in the long-term.

This week, the EU and Member States will meet to discuss the implementation of measures designed to address the external dimensions of migration, in particular to stem the flow of migration from Libya to Italy. They have recognised the importance of addressing the structural drivers of ‘irregular migration and forced displacement’, yet their approach has largely focused on short-term reactive measures through partnerships with third countries in a bid to stem migration flows.

Specifically, the EU is offering development and security cooperation to governments in return for quick action to reduce migration from or through their territories, often by imposing greater physical and administrative barriers to hinder the movement of people. However, in some cases, such as under the Malta Declaration on addressing the Central Mediterranean route and the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, the EU is supporting the same governments that are responsible for creating or failing to deal with the conditions of violent conflict or repression that drive people from their homes. This risks providing international legitimacy, additional resources and a free hand to the very governing elites that are part of the problem and most in need of reform.

At the same time, the EU is focusing much of its efforts on ‘breaking the business model of smugglers’. However, evidence suggests that ‘smuggling is driven, rather than broken, by EU policy’. Indeed, the demand for, and use of, smugglers has increased due to border closures and investments in state security regimes which leave those having to flee or leave their homes with few options if they want to reach countries where protection might be available to them.

While in some cases livelihoods and resilience programmes are being supported to address the underlying drivers of migration, these can over-simplify and de-politicise the causes of displacement as they often fail to address crucial issues, including poor governance, injustice, inequality and corruption. In addition,  worryingly the Partnership Framework on Migration calls for EU and Member States to use international aid as a lever to stem migration to Europe, potentially directing it away from the people who need it the most and for whom this assistance is intended.

As the implementation plan of the EU global strategy on security and defence will also be discussed during this week’s European Council, it is important that the EU and Member States recognise the risks associated with narrow support to short-term, top-down, securitised interventions. Evidence is emerging that the provision of training and equipment to foreign security personnel to physically contain large numbers of migrants before they reach Europe - in contexts where the behaviour of those forces is repressive and there is little oversight, accountability or space for public engagement - puts vulnerable people at greater risk and is counter-productive to sustainable peace in the long-term. ‘Train and equip’ support, such as in the framework of the so-called Capacity Building in Support of Security and Development initiative, must be framed within a long-term plan to prioritise diplomatic action and measures to confront repression, bad governance and corruption, and address violent conflict.

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, we support the call of over 160 NGOs for the EU to defend, uphold and advance global norms that enshrine European values and offer the same protections to others. If it fails to do so, these norms will come under further attack across the globe. Now more than ever, the EU and member states must abide by their commitments and make the case for more constructive and sustainable approaches to displacement, migration and conflict.

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As the implementation plan of the EU global strategy on security and defence will also be discussed during this week’s European Council, it is important that the EU and Member States recognise the risks associated with narrow support to short-term, top-down, securitised interventions.