Human Rights Group Slams EU Asylum Plans

Amnesty International says EU plans for a joint approach to asylum violate international agreements. NGOs have vowed to fight a German proposal for the EU to set up refugee asylum camps in North Africa.

photo: AP
New rules could put a stop to asylum in Europe

​​EU justice and interior ministers on Thursday looked set to throw their weight behind German Interior Minister Otto Schily's concept of asylum centers in Libya, Tunisia and more northern African countries. But non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Germany's Pro-Asyl are up in arms over the idea, which they view as a fierce attack on international asylum laws.

AI and other NGOs would fight tooth and nail the setting up of such camps, if only on the grounds that refugees would have no guarantee that their asylum applications will be looked into in a thorough manner, AI Germany's Julia Duchrow told reporters in Berlin.

"We think that those camps will not guarantee that refugees are protected," Duchrow said. "We think that it is not possible to guarantee that someone can appeal against the decision by EU officials who are deciding who is in need of protection and who is not."

Thirty to 60 percent of all people with refugee status in the European Union were only recognized as such after appealed initial decisions that said they were not refugees, AI said in a press release.

Amnesty also warned that plans to harmonize EU asylum practices -- which would allow countries to deport asylum seekers to third countries outside the bloc -- are going the wrong way. Refugees could thus be sent to countries where human rights and the protection of refugees aren't guaranteed. "Deportation to Ukraine or the Russian federation, for example, would be a blatant violation of international refugee law," AI's Wolfgang Grenz said.

"Europe dodges responsibility"

Duchrow said that asylum camps in North Africa would be used an instrument for Europe to dodge its responsibility to deal with refugee crises. She refused to accept the argument that the very existence of such camps would prevent any refugees from trying to make it to Europe on their own or with the help of traffickers.

photo: AP
German Interior Minister Otto Schily

​​Schily has defended his conviction that refugee detention camps need to be set up in North Africa to prevent thousands of more people from risking their lives while trying to reach the European mainland in dangerously rickety vessels.

Last Wednesday, he reiterated his stance while talking to a parliamentary panel of interior affairs experts in Berlin. Schily has already received the backing of the Italian government which has had to grapple with tens of thousands of African refugees in recent years.

Despite fierce resistance from the German Green party, Schily’s proposal has found acceptance among other politicians. Social Democrat interior affairs spokesman Dieter Wiefelspuetz said it should first and foremost be seen as a humanitarian offer. He dismissed as groundless objections that such camps would undermine the very essence of the Geneva convention on refugees.

Camps no matter what

During a recent trip to Tripoli, Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisano said plans to set up asylum camps in Libya would go ahead no matter what. Italy also signed an agreement with Libya on the training of local police to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Amnesty’s Julia Duchrow expressed shock at the fact that Libya was being seen by EU officials as a suitable location for asylum centers.

"We have great, great problems with the human rights situation in Libya, and we know of many people, from Eritrea for example, who have been detained in Libya," Duchrow said. "They have been sent back then to Eritrea and are now in military camps. We fear that they are tortured and we can't get access to them."

Closer cooperation between Libya and the EU comes in the wake of the lifting of an arms embargo imposed on that African country in 1986. Libya is used as a starting point for thousands of immigrants landing on Italian shores every year.


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