The EU's refugee double standard



The scaremongering tactics perpetuated by the right-wing in the EU regarding migrants and refugees boil down to two observations dissociated from the historical and political ramifications: that migrants will keep coming, and that Europe has no space to accommodate them. However, who and what created refugees is a question that EU leaders prefer to ignore.

Italy's Deputy PM Matteo Salvini attends the swearing in ceremony of the new government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at Palazzo del Quirinale on 1 June 2018 in Rome. (Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)Since the spat between Italy and Malta over the fate of the 629 migrants stranded on board the Aquarius vessel, the EU has been seeking purported solutions that have more to do with pushing migrants back to their countries of departure or origin, than with implementing a system that will safeguard their human rights.

The options have ranged from increasing surveillance and militarisation of the Mediterranean, to criminalising the act of seeking refuge, thus ensuring that the EU does not have to contend with either the presence of refugees, or the tragedy of their deaths at sea. If their human rights are violated elsewhere, it is of no concern to the bloc, or so it would have us believe.

However, the EU has played its part in creating refugees, notably through the earlier colonial exploitation in Africa and, more recently, by giving support to foreign intervention in North Africa and the Middle East. Consider, for instance, Libya's current deterioration as an unacknowledged failed state following NATO intervention in 2011 — a move championed by the EU as 'bringing democracy'.

Since Libya became overtly known as a hub for trafficking, abuse and exploitation of migrants, the EU suggested, in 2015, that smuggler routes should be bombed to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean by boat. Since then, the EU has spoken about combating human trafficking as a phenomenon dissociated from the consequences of NATO's intervention in Libya. This led to the branding of NGOs involved in search and rescue operations as trafficking aides, thus absolving countries and, indeed, the bloc, of abdicating its responsibilities.

Yet the politics of invading countries and those that tacitly approved of intervention have perpetrated a problem where each component is intrinsically linked, despite working to achieve different aims. The EU uses rhetoric of alleged differences between refugees fleeing from war and economic migrants, despite both facing similar situations due to the political contexts.

Furthermore, we have politicians such as Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini inciting against migrants do to the supposed lack of space. During a BBC interview, Salvini estimated that only ten per cent have genuine refugee claims; the remaining 90 per cent had fled their home countries to commit crimes in Europe. Such statements have gained ground among the public in many European countries. Malta, for example, topped the EU ranking for online hate speech, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey.


"Feeding illusions of democracy and maintaining closed borders while invading other regions has become normalised practice."


Double standards are at play. Violating other countries' space and sovereignty to create destabilisation in the name of democracy is considered a viable political measure. Its repercussions, which include refugees seeking stability within the perpetrator's space, are depicted as a threat necessitating solutions that do not include any form of accountability.

The truth is that the EU is facing the consequences of its own actions. Since it will not link political violence to migration, and wishes to maintain its humanitarian façade, there is negligible opposition to what Salvini and his ilk are perpetrating against human rights; the latest being a warning that no search and rescue vessel will be allowed to dock in Italy's ports.

The web by now is so tangled that it is no longer a mere issue of racism. Feeding illusions of democracy and maintaining closed borders while invading other regions has become normalised practice. The public is just another pawn in the political game, exploited for the benefit of the higher echelons and failing to realise that it is absorbing the fears which the EU has dictated.

If the public receives political justification for its fears that its space is being invaded, there is more possibility for impunity and dissociation to flourish. As a result, the EU is able to maintain separate discourses on refugees and space, neither of which will be discussed against a backdrop of foreign intervention and exploitation. The politics that created refugees will thrive within its context.

The humanitarian action will be further eroded under the guise of the EU allegedly fighting human trafficking, while knowing full well that its policies are contributing to the circumstances that force desperate people to risk their lives at the hands of abusers, or in the Mediterranean.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.



Main image: Italy's Deputy PM Matteo Salvini attends the swearing in ceremony of the new government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at Palazzo del Quirinale on 1 June 2018 in Rome. (Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Italy, EU, Malta, migrants, refugees



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Existing comments

A curious perspective ! Why would anyone flee to Europe if Europe is the cause of their plight. It is probably more likely that local conditions and governance or lack of it in the countries the refugees are fleeing would be the most blameworthy. It could be easily argued that many on the African continent benefitted from the European influence particularly in matters of governance, the law and advancement of human rights. In recent times, the emergence of dictatorships with the removal of European influence is probably the prime reason for the mass exodus of genuine refugees. The breast beating mea culpas displayed by the Merkel's of the world for past wrongs is nothing more than fear of being designated racist or politically incorrect. Madness.
john frawley | 02 October 2018

Thank you for this excellent insight into the context of how the EU has contributed to the refugee crisis. The historical shaping of the crisis you explain offers more nuance to this tragedy.
Rosemary Sheehan | 03 October 2018

The EU is not the only place where scaremongering tactics are used relating to refugees. Many Australian major party politicians have a lot to answer for in this regard. One tragic result is the long term detention of refugees at Nauru and PNG. I watched the first of a 3-part series of 'Go Back to Where You Came From' on Ch 3 TV last night and heard the contrasting opinions of some of the participants. Hopefully the harsh attitudes of some of the participants to refugees will change as they come to terms with the cruel reality of the situations refugees are fleeing from. But neither side of Australian politics is showing any great sense of humanity in leaving people indefinitely in detention on off-shore 'hell holes'. It makes me ashamed to be an Australian when I think of the 12 people who have lost their lives due to the actions of politicians acting in our name, and the depression, self harm and suicide attempts of so many of these people who came here seeking asylum, which they have every right to do. The Australian Greens politicians seem to be the only party with a compassionate attitude to asylum seekers. I suggest to people to vote 1 Green at the next election. We need to elect politicians who won't play politics with the lives of desperate people who come to us for help, and who are just ordinary people like us, not the demons some politicians make them out to be.
Grant Allen | 03 October 2018

I`m interested to see that ES`s filtering system now allows repeated and explicit part-political advertising and voter lobbying. Green of course.
Eugene | 03 October 2018

You make some very good points Ramona, though I would suggest that your piece is rather too biased against the Western powers (although their record is pretty shameful, to be sure). What about Russia? Not only did it start the modern history ball rolling with the 1st 20th century Afghan War/invasion and its constant Cold-war support for all sorts of left-wing, anti-democratic, de-stabilising and nasty dictatorships in Africa and the middle east, but over the last few years it has generated millions of new refugees though its cruel intervention in the Syrian debacle. To make matters even more bizarre, Russia has been a keen supporter of all the right-wing anti-migrant organisations in Europe that you are talking about. Who but Putin would have the cynicism and gall to both cause the refugee crisis and then use it as a pawn to undermine Western democracies?
Eugene | 03 October 2018

I believe that Europe is following our Governments policies on refugees and how to handle them . Australia was the country which started detaining them and the politicians have taken their ideas to other governments around the world. It seems that Europe has taken our cruel answer to refugees and chosen to copy this country.
Elizabeth Craven | 03 October 2018

The reasons for the world growth of refugees are complex. I suggest to readers that they read Alexander Betts and Paul Collier's book, Transforming A Broken Refugee System. They outline the complexity of the fragility of countries and the breaking down of nations leading to the current crisis. And the brokenness of the current system of dealing with asylum, devised for another era. The book is heavy with facts, figures, example nations, history, unlike this article, which seems short on facts and heavy on polemic. Why tarnish all Europeans with the worst of some of the politics, like the example of the Italian Prime Minister? There are multiple views, attitudes, political groupings, policies across Europe. Its also not inaccurate to judge only on policies on asylum. Trade policies, support to UNHCR, direct aid, are going to be important to help the world deal with this issue. Indeed, since over 95% of refugees seek refuge closeby, in the hope of return, these potential returnees may be the only way many of these countries may be able to rebuild. Betts and Collier highlight that over 50% of Syria's engineers have fled to Europe. This will retard if not prevent the rebuilding of Syria after the conflict.
John Kilner | 05 October 2018


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