The EU’s ‘regional disembarkation platforms’

The socio-economic problem in the Maghreb needs solutions that cannot be addressed by “disembarkation platforms.”
Sunday 01/07/2018
A young Tunisian looks toward the Mediterranean sea in Kerkennah Islands off Sfax, on June 5. (AFP)
A young Tunisian looks toward the Mediterranean sea in Kerkennah Islands off Sfax, on June 5. (AFP)

The EU summit in Brussels on June 28-29 may have helped contain the bloc’s political differences over the issue of migration but has yet to reach a clear understanding with the Maghreb on how to deal with the problem.

Leaders of the EU 28 seem to have worked out a broadly acceptable deal. They were able to respond to Italy’s demand for greater burden sharing by agreeing to establish “controlled” screening centres on European soil and they promised to do more to manage the flow of migrants across Europe.

What is likely to be controversial and difficult to implement, however, is the summit’s decision to “swiftly explore” the idea of “regional disembarkation platforms” outside of Europe, possibly in North Africa.

The “platforms” would theoretically distinguish between rescued migrants eligible for asylum and those who are economic migrants.

The European Union has never been so divided over migration policies. Populist ruling parties in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia dispute the very notion of burden sharing. In Germany, migration has thrown the governing coalition’s future into doubt. Italy has been playing a particularly active role on the migration issue since the last elections, which put two populist parties in power. Its far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said he wants “reception and identification centres” for migrants outside of Europe, specifically on Libya’s southern border.

The centres, south of the Mediterranean, would be in line with a deal the European Union struck with Turkey in 2015. Europe agreed to pay $3.5 billion in exchange for Turkey’s help in preventing migrants from crossing the Aegean to Greece and then further into Europe.

Now, the European Union would like the United Nations to play an active role in setting up these external “platforms.” Leonard Doyle, of the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration, however, insists “these centres should be in Europe.”

There are other problems with the idea of such “platforms.” No one is sure where, if anywhere, they might be established. Most North African countries reject the concept, which they see as infringing upon their sovereignty.

There are other reasons the 2015 Turkish deal cannot be duplicated in the Maghreb. Libya, beset by a lack of central authority, is unable to exercise effective control over its borders. In the Maghreb, migration is contemplated by thousands of unemployed young men and women with few opportunities at home. Their socio-economic problem needs solutions that cannot be addressed by “disembarkation platforms.”