“Safe routes” would allow asylum seekers to safely access a country and have their claim fully and fairly assessed.


First published in September 2020.


The recent cases in the last two weeks – 45 asylum seekers dying in the Mediterranean and Banksy’s rescue ship being left without help – are just the tip of the iceberg, but they demonstrate a disturbing trend of EU states attempting to avoid issues regarding “push backs” by leaving people to die.

This isn’t new, but, I guess you could say that fortunately a larger number of people seem to be becoming aware of it. Likewise Greek actions in regards to towing more than 1,000 asylum seekers out to sea and leaving them there on off chance the Turkish coastguard picked them up.

States have a responsibility to process asylum claims made in their territory. If someone fails to reach that territory then they don’t. It is entirely arguable that none of these action breach refugee law though.

Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea States have a responsibility to provide assistance to vessels and persons in distress, provided it does not endanger the vessel or crew providing that assistance though. So they could violate that.

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982. / United Nations

In theory, international laws should act together. In the case of asylum seekers this means taking into account not just refugee law, but also other related human rights laws, law of the sea, etc.

That does not appear to be happening at the moment. Instead what we are seeing is vulnerable people being left to potentially drown in order to absolve EU nations, – and, let’s be honest, other developed nations such as for example Australia who carry out similar actions – from their responsibility to provide protection.

This is why it is so important that there is a focus on what is commonly referred to as “safe routes”. These are agreed methods, between States, which would allow asylum seekers to safely access a country and have their claim fully and fairly assessed.

The argument used against them is that they would create a “pull factor” for even more asylum seekers. You will often hear the term “economic migrants” used in conjunction with this, as if it matters whether someone dies from persecution or being unable to afford to live.

From a government perspective, rather than human rights one, they make more sense than current actions being taken. There is no risk of a State being found to violate international law for one thing. They also work out cheaper than border control or externalisation policies. They automatically remove a major factor in human trafficking by removing a need for people to use traffickers. Thus acting as an efficient, and cost-effective, means of combating at least one form of organised crime.

And, if you are a State and arguing they would allow “anyone” to arrive, they make it more likely people are able to access the asylum system and have their claim processed. So, States have more chance of cutting number of undocumented individuals and knowing who is there.

Despite the mountain of evidence to show refugees are less likely to commit crimes than other groups, and far, far less likely to be terrorists, it is also worth noting that safe routes are the single best way to prevent any such hypothetical issue.

By removing the demand for both smugglers and traffickers you help damage their operations. You cut down on traffic so you can focus your attention on genuine threats. You are processing claims so you can assess someone better to see if they are a “threat”.

I believe in safe routes from a human rights perspective, which has different arguments based on everyone’s right to seek safety. If you are against that though, safe routes provide a far better way to “secure borders” than any amount of pushbacks, and they don’t cost lives.🔷





[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 2 September 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dover cliffs, Pxfuel.)

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