If Australia has recently been at the heart of the debates about the major fires that have occurred in this country-continent, raising in passing the climate emergency and the question of environmentally displaced persons, the Europe of 27, currently in the grip of the coronavirus imported from China, and where some countries are again asking the question of closing borders, has again failed with the reform of asylum law known as Dublin IV.
This is due to the rule of unanimity which prevails within the European Council, the decision-making body concerning immigration and asylum, but also to the lack of solidarity between European countries. If a single state blocks the reform bill, it cannot pass.
Two different visions of identity and immigration
It should be recalled that Dublin I had sought to put an end in 1990 to the plurality of asylum applications in several European countries simultaneously (“asylum shopping”); Dublin II in 2003 had enacted the principle of “one stop, one shop”, obliging applicants to seek asylum in the first European countries where they had set foot (that is to say, essentially, the European countries of the Mediterranean, closer to the arrivals from the southern shore: Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta because you rarely enter through Finland); Dublin III sought to reconcile Dublin II with the new profiles of 2015 – some of these new asylum seekers seeking to join their families in this or that European country. The rule of unanimity which governs in Brussels questions of immigration and asylum; this rule can only be modified if the European countries agree to it unanimously, which seems difficult with the rise of populism in several EU countries.
The harsh treatment of refugees and its many perverse effects provide an opportunity to compare Europe to Australia on the subject, both of which are among the largest immigration regions in the world. In Europe, a crisis of hospitality and responsibility towards migrants has developed since 2015; in Australia – a country essentially built by immigration – migration is part of the country’s identity, unlike in Europe. Indeed, while Europeans struggle to see immigration as part of their identity, in Australia immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism go hand in hand and the country prides itself on its proactive approach to incorporating newcomers, selected on the basis of their age, skills, language spoken and desire to become future Australians.
The question then is: why is Australia so dissuasive towards refugees, particularly from Asian countries and often confined to Pacific islands with no hope of being able to land on Australian soil?
Toughness in the face of unwanted migrants
The EU, for its part, while reaffirming its respect for the Geneva Convention on asylum, has concluded several agreements with non-European countries (Turkey in 2016 and Libya on several occasions since the beginning of the 2000s) so that they contain on their territory the candidates for Europe.
Libyan coast guards have thus been trained in the fight against irregular departures from the Libyan coast, and the area of the territorial sea has been widened to enable them to intervene in the Mediterranean and to escort the “harragas” back to Libya ( “border breakers”). The Turkish border is largely controlled following the 2016 agreement between the EU and Ankara on departures to Europe – a situation which has only recently changed, with President Erdogan having decided to open the borders between Turkey and Turkey. Greece to the millions of migrants on Turkish territory. Even before these recent developments, departures to Greece of those who fit the profile of asylum seekers were permitted; they were then parked in camps in the Dodecanese islands offering living conditions below all human dignity. The same is true in the Pacific islands where the refoulement of undesirables hardly raises questions about living conditions there.
“Good” and “bad” migrants
There have been some 34,000 deaths in the Mediterranean since 2000. But in Europe, despite the solidarity crisis that has cut Europe in two between east and west since 2015, refugees are considered “good” migrants and job seekers as “bad” migrants, cheaters. It is the opposite in Australia where asylum seekers remain parked on the islands while migrants who have come to work on a long-term basis are considered, if they are sufficiently qualified, as corresponding to the profiles of new legal immigrants.
Australia sees itself as a land of immigration ready to absorb new citizens who will enter the labor market, while Europe, despite being the world’s leading migratory region for the number of inflows, struggles to consider itself as land of immigration and only tolerates migrants corresponding to the agreements and legal principles or the rules of international competition that it has endorsed (family reunification, asylum seekers, students).