Humanity in short supply in European hotspots

13 November 2016

Humanity in short supply in European hotspots

The Dutch government is proud of Europe’s asylum policy. The number of asylum-seekers in the Netherlands has fallen substantially and the uncontrolled march across Europe is at an end. That’s all undoubtedly true, but in my view an asylum policy can only be described as a success if it doesn’t violate human rights and offers refugees effective protection. The situation in the ‘hotspots’ in Italy and Greece is appalling, however. Everyone seems to be averting their eyes. That’s unacceptable.

Amnesty International recently produced a report on the hotspots in Italy. This year alone some 130,000 people have sought refuge in Italy for both economic and political reasons. Screening by the Italian authorities occurs directly on arrival. At that stage people often haven’t the slightest idea what to expect, but this first sifting determines your fate: economic migrants must return to their country of origin, asylum seekers can proceed to the hotspots. The first category is, however, not in reality deported. All over Italy you can see ever more of these migrants hanging around. Without documents they can’t go back to their own countries and they can only work illegally. This not only guarantees that they’ll be exploited, but also that tensions between the Italian population and the growing group of migrants will continue to rise.

The asylum-seekers appear to have things better, but Amnesty reports many examples of unreasonable levels of violence against them, for instance when people have to give their fingerprints and they resist. Amnesty even makes mention of torture. And this is in the European Union. The mental torture goes still further. The aim was that in the hotspots asylum seekers would be quickly identified so that they could be received in other member states. That rarely happens, with fewer than 1,200 asylum- seekers having been thus far accepted by other EU countries. No wonder that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi feels that he has been left in the lurch. And the asylum-seekers simply wait…

In Greece the situation may be even worse. Asylum-seekers there are housed in small tents which were this week made unusable by torrential rains. In one of the Greek hotspots the asylum-seekers have started fires in order to draw attention to their lot. The Greek government can only assess the asylum-seekers by dribs and drabs and in Greece too, few people are being transferred to other member states.

They seemed like a good idea at the time, these hotspots. But if you leave so much to the authorities locally, the idea simply doesn’t work. In Italy there are eleven asylum workers, in Greece forty. These represent of course no more than a drop in the ocean. A mass operation, in which the hotspots would be furnished with sufficient personnel and sufficient infrastructural provisions in a common effort by all member states is what’s needed to improve their quality. Otherwise the people who see the hotspots not as the humanitarian reception centres that they were intended to be according to European plans, but as a deterrent, will be proved right. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Dutch government can carry on saying that the asylum policy is a success because they are seeing fewer asylum-seekers. But the images of inhuman conditions in the hotspots are imprinted on my eyeballs. Sleep well, Prime Minister.

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