Germany’s proposal of opening migrant camps in Tunisia – why it appears to be a bad idea

Last month, the German Ministry of Interior proposed that migrants that have been intercepted on the Mediterranean Sea while trying to make their way to Europe should in future be sent to Tunisia for processing.

Practically, the idea behind the suggestion is that camps would be built to contain the migrants that have attempted to flee from Libya to Europe. There, it would be planned that the migrants could potentially apply for asylum in a European country.

The project is inspired by Australia’s highly controversial immigration control system where migrants are detained on Pacific Islands such as Naru and Manus awaiting decisions on their application for asylum in conditions which have been subject to international criticism.

The idea would be that this new system would act to discourage migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea on unseaworthy boats and therefore diminish and degrade the numbers of human trafficking networks, and which has been internationally reported as being a major source of revenue in Libya today.

Handing over this responsibility to the Tunisian State comes in a context of transitional justice process within the country that is supported by the European Union. Nonetheless, the first fear concerning this new idea would be that the aid and development program offered by EU countries would subsequently be conditioned by this agreement and that a refusal could hinder the transitional justice process ongoing since 2013.

Also, this concept raises questions about how far Tunisia has managed to change its pre- Arab Spring situation regarding it’s migration policy.

As it has been witnessed in Choucha camp, a migrant camp that has been officially closed in 2013, many human rights were violated on a daily basis. The lack of asylum legislation and the slow processing of the asylum claims made the camp feel like an open-air prison in Tunisia. However, not much seems to have changed since.

After the Arab Spring, a new Constitution has been written wherein the adopted (2014) 26th article claims that “the right to political asylum is guaranteed in accordance with the provisions of the law, and it is forbidden to extradite all person that benefit of political asylum”. However, this right only concerns political asylum, meaning that all other migrants are not protected by Tunisian law, reminding that according to 1958 Law, irregular migration is punished with a one month to one year imprisonment with a possible prohibition from return.

Also, torture is abolished in Tunisia, but given that the definition implies that the aim of torture is to extract information, the question is what safeguards are in place to prevent abuses towards refugees and migrants in terms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment? Hearing of detention conditions of migrants in Libya, and acts of torture used against them, there is an existing fear that the conditions could become similar if such camps should open in Tunisia.

In summary, the European Union is once more externalising it’s responsibility towards migrants, strengthening the idea of a fortress Europe, while denying its obligation of protection of vulnerable populations waiting to go to Europe, and would rather see their basic human rights violated, as well as the non-refoulement principle violated where applicable, as well as the right to freely leave a country for another.

Again, I express my fear for the accountability, the access to oversight and transparency of actions in a North African State that the European Union would have when it is pushing for such processing agreements, and which might well result in mistreatments of migrants in a third country where they did not want to go to in the first instance, and from which they might be sent back to a country where their lives are at risk.

This possible reinforcement of the European Union’s borders is one more step that is taken towards the abolishment of the lawful right to freely seek asylum, instead of opening legal routes to guarantee a safe passage to persons that wish to come to Europe for reasons of legitimate betterment.

Melanie Glodkiewicz

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Photo credit: REUTERS