Time for an EU U-turn: Fortress Europe is only harming vulnerable people

The European Union’s response to migration is just creating more problems and causing unnecessary suffering to vulnerable people on the move. As European leaders meet in Brussels this week, Oxfam is calling for member states to fundamentally change their approach to managing migration. The concept of Fortress Europe needs to be replaced with a humane approach rooted in international law and human rights.

Fortress Europe is forcing people into degrading and hopeless conditions. It is also sending a signal across the world that this behavior is acceptable, which is creating repercussions far beyond European borders.

Oxfam International Deputy Director of Campaigns and Advocacy, Natalia Alonso, said: “Shutting down borders does not stop people looking for safety, dignity and a better life, but actually forces people to use more dangerous and exploitative routes. Fortress Europe has so far failed to adequately support people who have arrived on European shores.”

Every day, from Italy and Greece to Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Oxfam is witnessing the failings in Europe’s migration response:

  • The medical needs of refugees and other migrants are not being adequately addressed. In Italy, everyone who arrives off boats from Libya has experienced trauma during their journey, yet struggles to receive medical assistance, even in the most serious cases. In Greece, there is an urgent need for more healthcare, education, mental health and psychosocial services, and support for survivors of gender-based violence.
  • The reception system for unaccompanied minors in Italy is woefully inadequate. The arrival of lone children has risen significantly this year, with some being kept for 5 weeks in de-facto detention facilities that are meant to house people for up to 48 hours only. More than 5,000 unaccompanied children were reported missing in the first six months of 2016, which is an average of 28 children each day.
  • The asylum and family reunification processes in Greece are unfair, inefficient and far too slow. People tell Oxfam they are frustrated and confused by the registration process and asylum system. Asylum seekers have no clear guidance on next steps and are waiting for months to receive answers regarding their legal status, living in temporary, unsuitable, and sometimes even inhumane, conditions.

Refugees and migrants don’t see alternatives to irregular routes. Many tell humanitarian workers they see smugglers as the only way to continue their journey. Oxfam’s partners in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are reporting increasing numbers of people crossing the border as they lose faith in the asylum system. Currently over 5000 people are in Serbia as they look for alternative ways into Europe. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to danger and abuse along irregular routes.

As well as closing borders and outsourcing border control to neighboring regions, the EU is now refocusing its foreign and development policies around the primary aim of curbing migration, of stopping people on their way to Europe and sending them back to where they come from.

“Europe needs to expand safe and regular routes to Europe and provide a fair, transparent and efficient asylum system. It also needs to ensure development aid is used for reducing poverty and inequality, not for reducing mobility,” said Alonso.

Notes to editors

1. Read the full media briefing paper “Causing suffering and problems - Europe’s approach to migration”http://oxf.am/ZuZq

2. A UN survey finds 70% of migrants arriving in Europe by boat have been trafficked or exploited.

3. In a joint statement ahead of the October EU summit, Oxfam and 10 other NGOs are cautioning against a strong shift of Europe's development programming towards migration management.

4. Oxfam’s briefing paper “Children alone: pulled from the sea, fallen by the wayside” from September 2016 reports the situation of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children in Italy and exposes flaws in the national and European reception systems.

5. In June, more than 130 NGOs strongly condemned new EU policies to contain migration through conditional development cooperation.

6. The report “Europe, don’t let us down: Voices of refugees and migrants in Greece” by Oxfam and ActionAid collects testimonies from hundreds of refugees and migrants landed in Greece to shed light on the reasons they fled their country, as well as their needs and plans for the future.

7. Oxfam’s briefing paper “EU ‘hotspots’ spread fear and doubt” of April questions the legal basis for these facilities in Italy and it concludes that EU member states have collectively failed to find a solution to managing migration that puts human lives first.

8. In November 2015, Oxfam’s partner organisations collected evidence of abuse of refugees at hands of Bulgarian police.

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | florian.oel@oxfaminternational.org | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamEU

More on Oxfam's response to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis