As the situation in Libya is worsening and the world is watching the atrocities of Gaddafi's regime, European governments are stepping up efforts to evacuate their citizens outside the country. The repression is brutal and just as British, Turkish, Egyptians and other foreigners, some Libyans and refugees from sub-Saharan countries unable to go back and stranded in Libya will need refuge from violence and human rights abuses.
At this historical moment, on the other side of the Mediterranean, the EU needs to live up to its obligations to protect those fleeing the violence.
With or without Frontex, border control operations carried out at sea cannot result in persons being returned to Libya without assessing in a fair asylum procedure whether they are in need of international protection.
Some European governments have warned of an exodus of biblical proportions. The truth is that what will happen is totally unpredictable. For the moment, those leaving the country seem to be travelling to Egypt or remaining elsewhere in the region. So far, according to the EU Border Agency Frontex, some 5.500 people, mainly Tunisians, arrived to Lampedusa in January and February. This is nowhere near the number that would make an asylum system of a country such as Italy collapse.
Even if the number of people arriving to Europe would increase dramatically, to the extent that an immediate and individual assessment of their protection needs would no longer be possible, the EU has already at its disposal the tools to ensure that people can reach a safe haven. The Temporary Protection Directive, adopted after the Kosovo crisis, allows Member States to grant immediately a protection status to persons who arrive in Europe in the context of so-called mass influx and makes it possible for Member States to better share responsibility through the relocation of refugees protected under this scheme to other EU countries.
In addition, the recently established European Asylum Support Office has the competence to deploy national asylum experts to EU Member States receiving high numbers of asylum seekers. Although the agency is not yet operational, ad hoc solutions can be found if need be.
Finally, the EU's decision to suspend the negotiations with Libya on a framework agreement, which included cooperation in the field of immigration and asylum, is indeed the only sensible thing to do. Libya's poor human rights record was well known when last year the European Commission agreed to offer the dictatorship ? 50m over the next 3 years to reinforce Tripoli's capacity to prevent migrants from entering the Southern border and from crossing the Mediterranean towards Europe. According to the European Commission, no money has been disbursed so far. The bloodshed in the country and the regime's attempts to blackmail the EU by threatening with breaking its cooperation on controlling migration towards Europe, showed clearer than ever who the EU was willing to trust to control migration to Europe. This cannot go on.
ECRE press release, 25. Feb 2011, :: ecre.org.