While we peacefully celebrate Midsummer in Sweden, millions of people in the world are fleeing. Some lose their lives on the road to a closed Europe, others are imprisoned by criminal gangs in Libya. Sweden should set a good example and give humanitarian visas to people who want to seek asylum, writes Madelaine Seidlitz at Amnesty International.
June 20 is International Refugee Day, a day to draw the attention of refugees around the world. In Sweden it is midsummer day and many of us will have a calm and pleasant time. It will be as usual.
Over fifty million refugees will also have it as usual. Some will lose their lives on the run through the Sahara on the way to a sanctuary in Europe. Others will be imprisoned in Libya, in the hands of criminal gangs who demand money from relatives in order for them to be released.
Some of them have already been abused, and perhaps sexually abused. Other refugees will travel across the Mediterranean in seaworthy boats en route to Europe. Some of them will not make the journey but will drown.
None of them will know that it is International Refugee Day. Nor do they probably know that the EU is planning to seize and destroy refugee smugglers' boats in international waters. Or that the EU has requested permission from the UN Security Council to destroy boats in Libyan waters and territory before they have even left the port.
How has it been possible for the EU to take these drastic measures now? The EU, which guarantees the right to asylum in its Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 18) and which has spent years working to establish a common European asylum system. How is it that the EU is now taking measures that will make it even more difficult for refugees to move on from Libya (one of the world's most dangerous countries for refugees and migrants) to Europe to seek asylum?
Internal free movement - external walls
One of the answers is Schengen and internal free movement. The fact that we have no internal borders has led to a need for so-called compensatory measures (to curb attempts at cross-border crime) in the form of external border surveillance, requirements for airlines, common visa rules and so-called liaison officers to support the detection of refugees. en route to the EU at international airports around the world. And the establishment of the EU Joint Border Control Agency Frontex.
Not since World War II have there been so many people fleeing the world. People are fleeing wars and conflicts, but also repressive regimes and abuses, among other things due to faith, sexual orientation or political opinion. The more people on the run, the greater the need for a functioning asylum system. But not only that. People must also be able to get there, to the security of a country with a functioning system where it is possible to apply for asylum.
The EU as an institution, and thus also the individual member states, have deliberately chosen to have blinders on. The political unwillingness to act responsibly that is in line with our international obligations is incomprehensible.
We now have a system of sea rescue in place through Operation Triton, which is led by the EU border control authority Frontex. We welcome that. But much is missing. And no political leader can seriously believe that military means and the possibility of destroying refugee smugglers' boats will lead to anything other than a further deterioration of the situation of refugees in Libya - and that the price of travel to Europe will rise further.
No legal routes into the EU
It is not possible to apply for asylum at a distance. If you go to a Swedish embassy to apply for asylum, you will be referred to the fact that the application must be made in Sweden. But how do you get here? You are probably a citizen of one of the more than one hundred countries in the world for which the EU countries have common visa requirements. And if you are lucky enough to own a passport, you can apply for a visa per se. But since you are a refugee, you do not just want to visit Sweden. You want to seek asylum and stay here. Then you will not receive a visa.
Thus, there are no legal ways to get to the EU to seek asylum. If you are not unusually lucky and are one of the few refugees that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, proposes for resettlement. Then you can certainly, and with all the documents in order and residence permit already granted, get help with traveling to Sweden by plane.
That is why we are talking about Fortress Europe and that it is our system that plays refugees into the hands of human traffickers. This and other control measures such as the airlines' carrier responsibility are the reason why refugees are forced to pay much, much more to human traffickers for a life-threatening journey by boat across the Mediterranean than it costs to buy a plane ticket and thus a safe trip here. A journey to be able to seek asylum and be part of the common European asylum system.
Do we want it this way? When Sweden joined the Schengen cooperation and later in the EU, it was clearly stated that it would not affect refugees negatively. How has it been? Have we complied with the common rules, which in many cases are only the least common denominator? Or do we stand up for our own values?
The control measures have definitely increased. Like the number of walls. For example, the one between Greece and Turkey on the river Evros and the one in Ceuta in the Spanish enclave in Morocco, to name two.
Sweden must become clearer and more open
Much can be improved. Sweden has perhaps the best reception system for asylum seekers in the entire EU. The asylum procedure is largely good and legally secure. But the problem applies precisely to those who can not get here. There is a great potential for Sweden to become much clearer and to openly use the tools that already exist today. One example is the possibility of granting so-called humanitarian visas to people who we know will seek asylum once they are here. It would be the beginning of a system of asylum visas and legal routes into the EU for refugees in need of protection.
Sweden could be a pioneer by ensuring that we no longer accept a system that means that we exclude people, and at least sometimes, violate the obligations that we say we protect.
Not in the worst imagination did we think it could go so far in the political reluctance to stand up for the rights of refugees. And not only that, but you go further. The ambition to actively work to close people outside our union is increasing in scope. Now Sweden needs to do everything that clearly shows what international refugee law and international law means and demands of states.
Madelaine Seidlitz, Lawyer at Amnesty Internationall