One of the core principles of international refugee law is the principle of non-refoulment. Yet, countries keep using brutal tactics to stop asylum seekers crossing borders.
First published in May 2021.
2,000 people fleeing war and persecution, 2,000 people seeking safety, 2,000 men, women and children dead because the European Union (EU) repeated and knowingly violated international law by conducting pushbacks. It shouldn’t take a law to know this is wrong.
Pushbacks have been repeatedly proven to be illegal under international law, and EU member states have been prosecuted in the past for conducting them, but that doesn’t stop them being widely used and more refugee lives put at risk through that use.
We are seeing an increase in hard-line asylum policies, including the UK, which clearly violate international law on multiple grounds. That rarely cuts through with states though. Punishments tend to amount to little more than a slap on the wrist.
Asylum seekers provide a scapegoat, and, particularly during the pandemic, a distraction from other government failures. Their deaths are treated as a “deterrent” to convince other refugees not to even try seeking asylum.
What about those who do survive though? They risk being returned to Libya, a country where they face being trafficked, sold into slavery, tortured or murdered. This is done not only with the knowledge of, but also funding by, the EU.
One of the core principles of international refugee law is the principle of non-refoulement. This means it is illegal to return a refugee to either a state which is unsafe or, crucially, a third state from which you know they may subsequently be returned to an unsafe country.
Without incorporating international law into domestic laws though it remains difficult to prosecute cases. Even when they are, punishments are often so minor as to be irrelevant. We need to pushback against pushbacks and force states to protect refugees in their own laws.
At the end of the day, just saying “It is against international law” time and time again has as little impact on many people as that law does on states though. We aren’t really talking about a legal principle here.
We are talking about thousands of lives lost.
We are talking about people dying in the cold and dark for the ‘crime’ of fleeing persecution and safety. We are talking about husbands and wives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. We are talking about people’s friends and family.
Lost because of asylum policies.
We can change this. It won’t be through saying it is against international law though. States know that. It is about all of us, everywhere, standing up and saying “This is wrong!”
Showing politicians that refugees are people, not distractions for them to exploit.
▫ Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.
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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 5 May 2021 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: Wikipedia/Ggia. - Syrians and Iraq refugees arrive at Skala Sykamias Lesvos Greece. | 30 October 2015. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)