Background Briefing

III. Toward Enhanced Protection

In relationships such as those between the EU and Ukraine or the EU and Libya it is the obligation of both parties—the EU and each partner state—to ensure compliance with international standards for respecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers. However, the EU should consider itself under a heightened obligation to improve its own policies and practices, as it pursues its agenda of exporting them. It should reaffirm its commitment to its own obligations to protect asylum seekers and migrants inside the EU’s borders.  The EU should also leverage its relationships with those neighboring countries with whom it is cooperating in “migration management” in order to seek improvements in protection within those countries. 

There are some hopeful signs.  In tandem with seeking to strengthen Libya’s border controls, there are bodies within the EU trying to improve Libya’s capacity to protect refugees and respect the rights of migrants.  A European Commission Technical Mission to Libya in November-December 2004, for example, was frank in acknowledging problems, including the absence in Libya of an individual status determination prior to deportation of irregular migrants.  The mission report noted that a “comprehensive long-term global approach to migration is needed, which should also include… protection of refugees.”  It concluded that “a full recognition of the UNHCR status by Libya would constitute a first step in this respect.”42

This conclusion was partly reflected in the Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusion of June 2005, which called on the Libyan authorities “to demonstrate a genuine commitment to fulfil their obligations under the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa which recognises that the Geneva Convention on Refugees constitutes the basic and universal instrument relating to the status of refugees and which requires effective cooperation with the UNHCR and the respect of the principle of ‘non-refoulement’” (as noted above, however, this was not set as a precondition for cooperation).43  It is important to stress that turning Libya into a safe country of first asylum would be a laudable goal in terms of enhancing refugee protection, but not as a nominal goal pursued self-interestedly by EU member states in order to make Libya a less inappropriate destination for readmissions.

There is also room for cautious optimism about the Regional Protection Programme concept.  As noted above, Regional Protection Programmes aim to enhance the protection capacity of regions of origin through a coordinated approach, including general development and humanitarian assistance, and to improve access to durable solutions in the target countries.  These are laudable goals that have the potential to improve global protection capacity. Whether the mechanisms do so, or serve instead as a pretext for denying access to asylum in the EU, will be a fundamental test of the European Union’s commitment to its obligations toward refugees.

42 European Commission, “Technical Mission to Libya on Illegal Immigration, 27 Nov – 6 Dec 2004, Report.”  

43 “Council of the European Union, 2664th Council Meeting, Justice and Home Affairs, Luxembourg, 2-3 June 2005,” 8849/05, press release.