The EU and Turkey held talks last week on possible ways to tackle the refugee crisis, including increased intelligence-sharing and funding for the construction of six refugee camps in Turkey. But Thursday’s meeting would be the first time European leaders discuss the issue collectively, Collett added. While similar ideas have surfaced in past decades, “the urgency of the current crisis is creating a different political climate to try and create new solutions,” she said.
The reception of refugees in non-EU centers might reduce dangerous border crossings — more than 3,000 people died while crossing the Mediterranean this year or jumping on trains in France’s port city of Calais, a main gateway to the United Kingdom — and could undercut smugglers charging exorbitant fees. But many have voiced concerns over the possible effects of offshoring asylum processing, a practice that some fear would favor guarding borders over protecting individuals.
“The creation of large-scale centers in Turkey with access to the EU through legal channels to resettlement would be advantageous in the sense that it would give people an opportunity to gain protection in the EU without having to undertake a dangerous journey,” Collett said. “The challenge would then be: Would the EU follow through with their commitment to resettlement?”
The EU’s track record on the issue has not been encouraging, she said. So far, member countries have agreed to resettle only 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, where many live in overcrowded camps unable to cope with the influx. On Friday, the first 19 Eritreans left Rome’s Ciampino airport for Sweden, but eastern European nations’ refusal to comply with the refugee quota system set up in September has halted efforts to resettle more, leaving thousands stuck in camps.
A UNHCR spokesman said Wednesday that the primary responsibility to determine protection needs and provide protection rests with the country where asylum is sought. But he acknowledged that external processing arrangements could play a role in reducing the need for unsafe travel “in exceptional circumstances and with appropriate safeguards.”
Such safeguards should include, at a minimum, protection against refoulement, treatment in accordance with international law and priority for vulnerable refugees such as children, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said in an email.
But the enforcement of such protections can’t be guaranteed in “offshore processing centers” outside the EU in countries with “dubious to terrible human rights records,” said Fred Abrahams, an adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“How do you ensure fair treatment? How do you ensure they have access to make a claim, and [that] it’s fairly reviewed? How do you ensure that people don’t end up in protracted limbo?” he said. “It’s difficult enough to ensure the refugees can make their claim and have it properly adjudicated in Europe, so imagine how difficult it must be outside of the EU. It’s outsourcing without quality control.”
It would be better to open “safe and legal routes” to reach Europe, he added. He recommended increasing the number of refugees resettled through the UNHCR, setting up educational scholarships across the world for people in needs of international protection and easing restrictions on family unification.
“It is key that through developing these new ideas the actual protection of individuals is not undermined,” Collett said. “That’s got to be a core part of the design.”