The 2001 Temporary Protection Directive [TPD] establishes minimum standards for temporary protection in a situation of mass-influx, ensuring basic rights for those fleeing their country of origin due to armed conflict or human rights violations. However, since its inception the TPD has not been used, and although the current situation provides an ideal test case, the European Council has remained quiet. Perhaps this is because there is no recognized measure of what the TPD-required ‘massive inflow’ is. But it is more likely a result of the requirement for a qualified majority and member state egoism; at present, only Malta and Italy are struggling under the burden of the North African migrants, so other EU states feel able to ignore the situation.
Last week, the Italian government criticised both the French government, for a ‘lack of solidarity’, and the EU, for abandoning Italy. States made commitments to cooperation at Tampere, yet the turning back of Tunisian migrants at the French border exemplifies a lack of solidarity that goes directly against such cooperation. France claims that Italy must process the migrants, but in a situation where the influx makes this a challenge, the overarching principles of an integrated migration system should take priority. Unfortunately, this does not occur, due in part to the securitisation of migration discourse, which leads to politicisation of issues for domestic point-scoring. Seeing migrants as a security threat also impacts the behaviour of the receiving state, in this case, Italy. Resulting actions are detrimental to the well-being of the migrants, as can be seen by conditions in the Italian reception camps. Overcrowded and understaffed, these locations fail to provide the migrants with even their basic legal entitlements. Breaches of EU law include lack of document provision and detention solely on the grounds of being refugees.
To prevent further overcrowding, the EU now looks to stop migrants from reaching its shores. EU ships intercept Union-bound vessels carrying asylum seekers, often returning them to Africa, thereby breaching its obligations under EU and international law. There have also been plans drawn up to process applications in third countries, without carrying out a necessary assessment of the suitability of these states. This would also be illegal. Yet despite these concerns, interception and return practices continue, again due to domestic political pressure and fears of other EU states failing to share the migrant burden.
Mediterranean migration has been problematic for years now, but this sudden influx has brought the crisis to a head. The failure to use the TPD is due to the unwillingness of other member states to burden-share, fundamentally challenging the principles behind Tampere and various EU Directives. This utterly disregards the migrants, who may well be eligible for EU or international protection. By establishing and then ignoring a system of integrated protection for mass-influx, the EU holds thousands of migrants in an unacceptable state of limbo, damaging both their physical and mental well-being, and casting doubts on the humanitarian credentials of the EU.
It is precisely these mass-influx situations which put pressure on commitments to responsibility-sharing and solidarity made in times of lower migration, yet it is precisely these situations for which frameworks were established. The TPD should be used, and the EU should call on all member states to honour their migration commitments. The EU should also invest funds into desecuritising migration discourses, which would have the long-term effect of lowering political resistance to migrant mass-influx burden-sharing in all the member states, thereby facilitating future migrant protection.
Laurence McGivern holds a BA from the University of Oxford and is currently a postgraduate student at the Central European University in Budapest.