MOAS Migration Update

Migrants often have to undertake perilous journeys in order to reach their arrival country. Each journey is unique, however, those having to undertake these journeys are often exposed to exploitative processes, abuse and illegal pushbacks as they embark on their search for safety. With anti-migrant sentiments increasingly permeating government policies, they also face harsh domestic policies on arrival. Safe and legal routes do exist, and while they do not offer a finite solution to the migration phenomenon, if people are able to access these routes and they are expanded by governments, then fewer migrants will be forced to endure these dangerous journeys. Currently, such routes are under-resourced and severely limited in their accessibility. We have also seen increasing use of pushbacks at EU borders and the continuation of arbitrary detention in Libya:

Migrant Pushbacks in Greece

A considerable hardship for migrants is the increase in the use of pushbacks and the impacts that they can have. Although the EU’s official policy towards pushbacks is that they are illegal, harmful and never to be conducted, one of the EU’s border agencies, Frontex, was found to be engaging in the practice, with over 957 refugees pushed back between March 2020 and September 2021. Pushbacks have become so common in Europe that the UN has warned that they are extremely close to being normalized, while being a complete violation of human rights.

The UN also outlined the devastating effects of pushbacks, with some rafts in the Mediterranean being left at sea and some unseaworthy vessels even being pushed out to sea. Additionally, there have been reports of migrants on land being stripped and forced back to the borders when they are caught. These actions have had fatal consequences. 12 bodies were found on the Greek-Turkish border, belonging to people who had frozen to death, as they had been stripped of their clothes and pushed back by Greek authorities. Furthermore, the authorities and their proxies keep migrants in detention for 24 hours with little or no access to food or water, as well as assault, steal from and strip them before pushing them back to Turkey. Some of the proxies used by the Greek police are refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who under duress have been carrying out pushbacks on other migrants. The pressure applied by the Greek police on the migrants to carry out this role includes threats of deportation, being charged with people smuggling and sent to prison, as well as losing all of their money or even to be made to “vanish”.

Fatal Danger and Slavery in Libya

Refugees in Libya face rape, torture and forced labor as well as arbitrary detention in cruel and inhuman detention and unlawful killings. The hardships of refugees are well-outlined by the story of an Eritrean refugee, who was in captivity from July 2017 to October 2019. The details of his captivity include being beaten by his captors, being enslaved, moved from compound to compound, one of which had 5 toilets between 1000 people, developing tuberculosis multiple times and being held hostage for a ransom which his parents had to pay with their last two cows. These experiences are typical for many refugees, for instance, forced labor is frequently used against refugees, they often have to be bonded to work until they can pay for their release, which has resulted in some refugees being trapped on farms for over 9 months. Furthermore, numerous refugees have reported seeing slave auctions, in which a slave is shown to bidders and their characteristics outlined, before bids take place.

Many of these dangers are prevalent immediately after unsuccessful attempts to cross the Mediterranean. The crossing itself already has pre-existing fatal dangers, with over 3,000 people across the Mediterranean losing their lives in 2021.

The Current State of Safe and Legal Routes

Safe and legal routes for refugees and asylum seekers are currently available in several countries, including France, Canada, Italy, Germany and the UK, however they represent a small percentage of total refugee arrivals. While the UK has resettled more refugees through safe pathways than any other European country through specific resettlement programmes since 2015, the percentage of arrivals through safe and legal routes was just 9% in 2021. These resettlement programmes were also extremely small-scale and focused on geographical remits. Furthermore, the UK has only resettled 1,651 refugees in spite of having a target of 5000 refugees per year from Afghanistan alone, a target set in August 2021. Safe and legal routes are used even more rarely on a global scale, with less than 1% of refugees worldwide being resettled per year.

The Potential for Safe and Legal Routes

There are already substantial calls for the expansion of #SafeAndLegalRoutes. With regard to the EU, it has been argued that article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to claim asylum) is unable to effectively provide the rights that it guarantees without safe and legal routes.  Rights would be better protected by a move from entry prevention to a status determination procedure. Furthermore, in the UK context, there is currently no legal option to claim asylum in the UK from France, leading to calls for a new safe and legal system to end the dangerous channel crossings.

MOAS calls for the expansion of a variety of safe and legal pathways. Firstly, this could include humanitarian visas which would enable asylum seekers to have safe and legal access to a third country, as well as potentially speeding up the asylum application process. Medical visas could also be offered to those requiring health care and unable to access it, so that they could receive medical care within the Schengen area. Finally, private sponsorship could be used to make a partnership between state and private actors, as the governments would facilitate legal admission for refugees, whilst private actors would provide the financial and social support to welcome and receive refugees in their communities. These are just three of the numerous safe and legal pathways advocated by MOAS. While they will not stop dangerous crossings, the more safe schemes in place for people seeking safety, the more opportunities people can have to reach sanctuary and start a new life with better integration support.

Final thoughts

The agony and perils that refugees currently face has to stop. The most efficient, humane and fair way to do this is through safe and legal routes. You can join MOAS’ campaign to help confine this suffering to the past by supporting safe and legal routes.


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