“The current focus on returns will not save the asylum system”, says the European Evangelical Alliance representative in Brussels, Arie de Pater. “It is not just about the economy this time, but about people”.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), displacement camps in seven Iraqi provinces have been suddenly closed, leaving more than 100,000 people without shelter in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the war against the Islamic State (IS or Daesh), more than six million Iraqis fled their homes. Iraq's government began to close camps in August 2019, expecting that the residents would turn to their areas of origin, but many of these places were destroyed during the war and have not been rebuilt yet.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that around 1.3 million people remain displaced, while more than half of the 4.7 million returnees “end up in precarious settings on the edge of towns, in damaged, unsafe apartments or unfinished buildings, lacking basic necessities and health care, and forced into further displacement”.
“Closing camps before residents are willing or able to return to their homes does little to end the displacement crisis”, the NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland pointed out. On the contrary, it keeps scores of displaced Iraqis trapped in this vicious cycle of displacement, leaving them more vulnerable than ever, especially in the middle of a raging pandemic.
The NRC called on the Iraqi government to “provide a clear plan for camp closures and share it with families at least a month ahead; ensure coordination with receiving districts, so that returnees are not turned away at checkpoints, and involve humanitarian organisations in the planning, so that returnees can be helped en route and upon arrival at their destination”.
On 23 September, the European Commission released a draft Migration and Asylum Pact, intended to give every member state tools as a starting point for negotiations.
The European Evangelical Alliance representative in Brussels, Arie de Pater, explains: “No member state will be obliged to relocate refugees but they will all have to contribute. A pre-screening phase should determine whether the new arrival has a genuine ground for claiming asylum or he or she should be considered an economic migrant”,
According to De Pater, “the aim to separate refugees from economic migrants is not unreasonable. But to make that distinction in 5-10 days, is quite ambitious to say the least. It has already been tried and has failed”.
“For a variety of reasons not all EU member states are willing to relocate refugees”, cotinues De Pater, “so that the Commission proposes that instead of welcoming refugees, member states can also share the burden by sponsoring refugee facilities, capacity, and also the return of rejected migrants”.
However, “returning migrants is not that straightforward, because the country of origin cannot be established, or home countries refuse to take their citizens back, and the creation of a EU returns coordinator will not change that. The current focus on returns will not save the asylum system”, he adds.
“Any solution starts with realising that migrants are not statistics but human beings like you and me, created in the image of God. It is up to all EU member states to define a common European Asylum System that is humane, fair, and transparent, based on justice, compassion and solidarity”, De Pater stresses.
That is why, “in addition to a clear voice in Brussels, we should also talk to our own governments to make sure they will come to Brussels with the right priorities. This it is not just about the economy this time, but about people”.