EU-Afghanistan “Joint Way Forward on migration issues”: another “surrealist” EU legal text ?

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by Luigi LIMONE (*)

It may be a coincidence but this year we are not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rene’ MAGRITTE painter’s death but also witnessing his surrealist approach spreading also in the EU Institutions and Member States legal practice.

We already know already that the core of 90% of legislative interinstitutional negotiations takes place in a confidential “informal” framework (the so called “trilogues” procedure) which run against the Treaties grounded obligation of legislative debates to be held in public.

Thanks to the Court of Justice (Cases T-192/16, T-193/16 and T-257/16) we have also recently discovered that the EU-Turkey “deal” on migration which was trumpeted as an EU achievement by the European Council President was not in fact an EU agreement because “neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish Government on the subject of the migration crisis.”  According to the CJEU press release “In the absence of any act of an institution of the EU, the legality of which it could review under Article 263 TFEU, the Court has declared that it lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers. For the sake of completeness, with regard to the reference in the ‘EU-Turkey statement’ to the fact that ‘the EU and [the Republic of] Turkey agreed on … additional action points’, the Court has considered that, even supposing that an international agreement could have been informally concluded during the meeting of 18 March 2016, something which has been denied by the European Council,  the Council  of  the European Union  and the  European Commission in the  present  cases, that agreement would have been an agreement concluded by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU and the Turkish Prime Minister. In an action brought under Article 263 TFEU, however, the Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the Member States.”

 

Now a third example of legal surrealist approach is offered to us by the Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU. It was signed during the Afghanistan donor conference which took place in Brussels on 4 and 5 October 2016 and brought together representatives from 75 countries and 26 international organizations, with the ultimate aim of finding new funding solutions to end violence and introduce a political process towards lasting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Unlike for the EU-Turkey “deal” this time the EU Institutions recognize to be responsible of this text.  Intervening before the European Parliament competent committee (LIBE)  Simon Mordue, Deputy Director-General for Migration, DG Migration and Asylum (DG HOME), this declaration aims to facilitate the return process of irregular Afghans and to support their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while fighting the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers at the same time. The objective, as stated in the document, is “to establish a rapid, effective and manageable process for a smooth, dignified and orderly return of Afghan nationals who do not fulfill the conditions in force for entry to, presence in, or residence on the territory of the EU, and to facilitate their reintegration in Afghanistan in a spirit of cooperation”. The document also clarifies that “in their cooperation under this declaration, the EU and Afghanistan remain committed to all their international obligations, in particular: a) respecting the provisions of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol; b) upholding the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; c) respecting the safety, dignity and human rights of irregular migrants subject to a return and readmission procedure”.

The little detail is that even if the wording of the text looks like an international agreement  the Commission has clearly stated also before the EP plenary that the text is not.. binding even if, its wording, objective and content, is the same of a formal readmission agreement like the ones that the European Union has so far concluded with 17 non-EU countries an which have approved by the European Parliament following art. 79 par 3 of the TFEU. (SEE NOTE BELOW)

According to the Commission the Joint Way Forward  should instead be considered a simple “joint statement”,  not legally enforceable wich simply “paves the way for a structural dialogue and cooperation on migration issues, based on a commitment to identify effective ways to address the needs of both sides”.  However, as noted by Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, also the readmission agreement with Turkey of 18 March 2016 originated in the form of two letters and of an informal declaration and the European Union. Now the EU has adopted the same approach with Afghanistan.

Is the joint declaration with Afghanistan, in fact, representing  another attempt to conclude a readmission agreement, while bypassing the rules (art.79 p 3 and 218 of the TFEU)   laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements and notably the approbation by the the European Parliament?

 

The Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration is in line with the recent political shift in EU foreign policy, which now primarily focuses on curbing migration and making deterrence and expulsion the main objectives of its relationships with third countries. The shift towards the externalization of migration management and control is exemplified by the new Partnership Framework, which was proposed by the European Commission in June 2016 under the European Agenda on Migration. The ultimate aim of the Partnership Framework is “a coherent and tailored engagement where the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner putting together instruments, tools and leverage to reach comprehensive partnerships (“compacts”) with third countries to better manage migration in full respect of our humanitarian and human rights obligations”.

In practice, the Partnership Framework has introduced an alternative approach with regards to readmission agreements, which are now concluded in the form of informal agreements by means of “informal” swift procedures.

This is done  , under pressure from some Member States, in particular Germany. It was already the case for the “non-EU” agreement with Turkey on March 2016, and also now Germany has hardly fought for a rapid adoption of an “informal” agreement with Afghanistan. Faced with the rise in arrivals form Afghanistan, in October 2015 the German Ministry of Interior Thomas de Maizières had already announced that Germany wanted to return to Afghanistan all the Afghan nationals who were not eligible for asylum, including those who had lived in Iran or Pakistan and, consequently, had no link to Afghanistan itself, and that to do so he would have urged the European Union to negotiate an agreement with the government of Kabul.  By invoking the need urgently facing the migration crisis, the political priorities of the Member States are now “deterrence” and “expulsion” and this has also gained the support of  EU Commission which is increasingly moving towards packaging these priorities in a format which  bypass the European Parliament and the lengthy formal procedures with a high risk of  human rights violations.  In fact, this new fast-track approach not only prevents any form of democratic scrutiny but also ignores the concerns of the civil society about the situation in Afghanistan and about the major risks of rights violations, such as the principle of non-refoulement, exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment, protection against collective expulsions and the right to asylum.

Afghans constitute the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 196,170 applying in 2015. The country is experiencing ongoing and escalated conflict, despite the efforts of the EU to present it as a country that is safe for returnees and able to reintegrate them successfully. The conflict has left more than 1.2 million people without permanent homes and has resulted in three million refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Since January 2015, around 242,000 Afghans have fled to the EU. Furthermore, the country is already facing a large number of returnees from the region. In 2015, more than 190,000 Afghan documented refugees have returned from neighbouring countries. People are exposed to a deeply deteriorating security situation, as provinces such as Helmand and Kunduz fall in to the hands of armed groups yet again.

Despite this situation, the Joint Way Forward declaration gives clear signals that the European Union will once again engage in a conduct that puts into question its obligation to protect those fleeing conflicts or persecution and to safeguard the human rights of all persons as required by the EU Charter. The declaration provides for measures to facilitate the return and readmission of Afghan nationals, such as the use of non-scheduled flights to Kabul, joint flights from several EU Member States organized and coordinated by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), including the possibility to build a dedicated terminal for return in Kabul airport. The Joint Way Forward declaration also opens up the return of women and unaccompanied children and no mention is made to the best interest of the child. The document, in fact, states that “special measures will ensure that such vulnerable groups receive adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the whole process”.

It has to be acknowledged that some Members of the European Parliament have already raised several concerns on the legitimacy of the Joint Way Forward declaration as well as on its content. They have criticized the approach of the European Commission with regard to the adoption of informal readmission agreements as well as the conditionality imposed to third countries. In fact, the format introduced by the Partnership Framework implies a kind of connection between development aid and the third country’s willingness to cooperate for the management of migration flows. It is clear that countries like Afghanistan which are strongly dependent on foreign aid for their revenues might have no other choice but to forcibly accept to cooperate in order to receive development and financial support in exchange.

The European Union must comply with the provisions of the Treaties as well as with its democratic principles and protection of human rights, in order to avoid the replication of the EU-Turkey “statement” and the EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward “declaration” with other third countries, in primis Libya and Sudan which have already been identified as “interesting partners” by Italy.

 

ANNEX EU-Legal Framework on readmission agreements

EU Readmission Agreements (EURAs) are based on reciprocal obligations and are concluded between the European Union and non-EU countries to facilitate the return of people residing irregularly in a country to their country of origin or to a country of transit. The EU has stated that readmission agreements with third countries of both origin and transit constitute a cornerstone for effective migration management and for the efficient return of third country nationals irregularly present in the EU. The objective of these agreements for the EU Member States is to facilitate the expulsion of third country nationals either to their country of origin or to a country through which they transited on route to the EU. As such, they are crucial to the EU return policy, as defined in the Return Directive (Directive 2008/115/EC).

Readmission agreements are negotiated in a broader context where partner countries are usually granted visa facilitation, which means simpler procedures for their nationals to obtain shorter stay visas to come to EU Member States, and other incentives such as financial support for implementing the agreement or special trade conditions in exchange for readmitting people residing irregularly in the EU.

The legal basis for the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries is Article 79(3) TFEU which states that “the Union may conclude agreements with third countries for the readmission to their countries of origin or provenance of third-country nationals who do not or who no longer fulfil the conditions for entry, presence or residence in the territory of one of the Member States”. These agreements are negotiated with the partner country on the basis of a negotiating mandate grated by the Council to the Commission and they are then concluded after the European Parliament has given its consent. According to article 218(6) TFEU the European Parliament must, in fact, give its consent prior to the conclusion of association and similar agreements. Moreover, according to article 210(10) TFEU the European Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.

 

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Relocation of Asylum seekers in the EU

(EP Study on the implementation of the 2015 Council Decisions establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece)

THE FULL VERSION OF THE STUDY IS ACCESSIBLE HERE   

 Abstract : This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the LIBE Committee, examines the EU’s mechanism of relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States. It examines the scheme in the context of the Dublin System, the hotspot approach, and the EU-Turkey Statement, recommending that asylum seekers’ interests, and rights be duly taken into account, as it is only through their full engagement that relocation will be successful. Relocation can become a system that provides flexibility for Member States and local host communities, as well as accommodating the agency and dignity of asylum seekers. This requires greater cooperation from receiving States, and a clearer role for a single EU legal and institutional framework to organise preference matching and rationalise efforts and resources overall.

 

AUTHOR(S) : Elspeth GUILD, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, (Belgium),  Cathryn COSTELLO, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK) Violeta MORENO-LAX, Queen Mary University of London, (UK). With research assistance from: Christina VELENTZA, Democritus University of Thrace, (Greece) Daniela VITIELLO, Roma Tre University, Rome, (Italy) Natascha ZAUN, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background

In September 2015 the Council adopted two Decisions regarding the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States (‘the Relocation Decisions’). In total, the number of asylum seekers to be relocated was 160,000, to take place over 24 months from the adoption of the decisions. By 2 February 2017, 18 months into the relocation period, a total of 11,966 asylum seekers had been relocated from the two countries. The largest number of people relocated from Greece went to France (2,414) and from Italy to Germany (700). By any measure, this failure to make relocation work effectively and swiftly from the outset is striking.

The second Relocation Decision included a distribution key based on the following elements: (a) The size of the population (40%), as it reflects the capacity to absorb a certain number of refugees; (b) total GDP (40%), as it reflects the absolute wealth of a country and is thus indicative for the capacity of an economy to absorb and integrate refugees; (c) average number of spontaneous asylum applications and the number of resettled refugees per 1 million inhabitants over the period 2010-2014 (10%), as it reflects the international protection efforts made by Member States in the recent past; and (d) unemployment rate (10%), as an indicator reflecting the capacity to integrate refugees. Member States allocation under this distribution key was supposed to be mandatory with only the possibility for Member States to refuse an applicant on the basis of national security.

Aims

On this basis, the study pursues the following objectives:

  • To describe the development of the relocation scheme in the context of the Common European Asylum System and the movement of third-country national asylum seekers in 2015;
  • To investigate the operation of the relocation scheme(s) established in September 2015, the successes, failures, and practical modalities;
  • To examine the reasons for resistance from several Member States to the relocation scheme;
  • To understand the practices in the relocation schemes that have contributed to satisfactory outcomes for asylum seekers, States and the EU, and those practices that have resulted in unsatisfactory outcomes for all involved;
  • To review the links between relocation and the ‘hotspots approach’ as well as action under the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 and their impact on the ground;
  • To unpack the implications of the incorporation of the relocation scheme in the Dublin IV reform through a permanent mechanism of corrective allocation;
  • To formulate concrete proposals to improve and rationalise the workings of relocation within the EU as a stable element of the Common European Asylum System.

Issues and Recommendations  Continue reading

Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)

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NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING  See the LIBE official page (with background documents – webstreaming) here                   

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)                                                                                                                                                                        

UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament :  According to Claude Moraes this meeting was taking place at very crucial moment of the reform which will  be needed to overcome the crisis which erupted at the EU external borders  in 2015 under the mass influx of migrants coming notably from the war zones in Syria and Iraq. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it should be now a common parliamentary endeavor to succeed in reforming these sensitive policies.

FIRST SESSION: Challenges related to the Common European Asylum System – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE Committee Chair

a) Intervention of Hon. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Maltese Presidency Council.  According to Hon. Carmelo Abela, when it comes to asylum, the EU is facing significant challenges like the urgent need to define future approaches for the solution of the migration crisis. The current EU legislative framework does not address the problem as it should do. Several amendments have been proposed by the Commission in order to reform the package on asylum legislation. The December 2016 Council conclusions on solidarity within the Dublin system provided that the EU should create a system built on solidarity, equal responsibility and based on political legitimacy. Discussions on the proposals already started and the Maltese presidency has already done some important efforts, but the road is still long.  The Minister confirmed that the reform was a priority for the Maltese Presidency. For him, the EU and the Maltese Presidency itself are facing significant challenges which should be addressed decisively and conclusively. He stated that the Maltese presidency would make every effort to achieve its objectives. However, it is worth noting that the presidency cannot succeed alone, it needs the help of the national Parliaments in order to create a durable and successful system of asylum.

b) Intervention by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Avramopoulos said that the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) remained a key priority of the EU. For this reform to be successful the EU needs to build a constructive dialogue between the Union and the representatives of the national Parliaments. According to him, purely national measures do not bring positive results, since nationalist approaches simply undermine the common strategy the EU wishes to adopt. A true spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility is required in order to: define a functioning system for asylum seekers; protect the EU external borders; dismantle the trafficking system; regulate irregular migration; manage return and readmission; accelerate the relocation process. The EU should face the challenge of the large amount of unaccompanied minors as well, together with the fight against secondary movement and asylum shopping. The renovated CEAS would help strengthen mutual trust among Member States, which is necessary not only for the efficiency of the system but also to provide asylum applicants with dignified treatment. The reform is therefore necessary to obtain a higher degree of harmonisation and greater convergence of measures, as well as an equal repartition of responsibilities among Member States.  The success of this reform depends on the implementation of solidarity mechanisms. A clear, predictable and efficient Dublin system is fundamental for the realization of a Union without internal borders. In this respect, sanctions for non-compliance with the rules are necessary, especially to fight secondary movement. Furthermore, resettlement and relocation should become compulsory for all Member States, especially with regard to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, Avramopoulos proposed to have a Union resettlement framework for persons in need of international protection, which would enable to eliminate differences among national practices. Member States have to show their political willingness to work together and the EU needs to achieve a common understanding on how the future CEAS should function. This should happen through the support of the Maltese Presidency. It is the time to move on with this proposal and look at the migration phenomenon in a more strategic, comprehensive and positive manner. The sooner migrants and refugees are integrated in the host societies and in the labor markets, the more the Union can take advantage of their inclusion. In order to accomplish these goals, the EU needs the involvement of all stakeholders and EU citizens.

c) Interventions of National Parliaments representatives and of MEPs. Continue reading

Parliamentary Tracker : a new episode of the EU-US visa waiver saga…

by Emilio De Capitani

Yesterday March 2nd the European Parliament has adopted a resolution (see below ) by which it has set a deadline to the Commission to adopt a delegated act which will trigger the reciprocity mechanism with the US because it still  does not grant a visa waiver to all the EU citizens. The latest Plenary debate on this subject took place following an oral question on December 14, 2016 (see here  and below the intervention of the LIBE Chairman and of the Commissioner Avramopoulos)

It is worth recalling that Reciprocity  is a basic principle framing the relations between States in the international arena and that in the visa policy domain the EU Member States may no more trigger alone this mechanism since the transfer of visa policies to the  EU 25 years ago with the Treaty of Maastricht.

The main EU legislative text dealing with reciprocity in visa domain is the Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 of 15 March 2001  which has been amended dozen times also in codecision  since the entry into force of the Amsterdam treaty (1999) and the gradual transfer of these policies under the “ordinary” regime.  The problem is that this transfer of competence from the MS to the EU has been recognized by almost all the third States except Canada, and ..the US. However, as far as Canada is concerned Prime Minister Trudeau has just confirmed that  the visa requirement will be lifted for all EU citizens  in December this year.

As far as the US are concerned  the European Commission was notified on April 2014, that  the EU citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free.

On the US side the visa issue has still to be settled bilaterally with each EU member state concerned (see the US legal framework here) and to obtain the US visa waiver the Country concerned should give access to a vast amount of confidential information and respect some strict thresholds connected to the return of its nationals. The point is that if the same standards were applied to the EU as a whole the visa waiver would be granted to everyone but for the US the EU is still not yet a valid counterpart because national  passport remain …national (?!). Needless to say this situation make furious the EU member states whose citizens are not granted the visa waiver (see the Polish position here) because they are no more competent in this domain. Their only possibility is to notify the situation to the Commission (as they did on 12 April 2014) so that the Commission can do its best to find in a two years time a positive solution with the third State concerned. According to the EU regulation into force if the situation is not settled the Commission should adopt a delegated act ( to which both Parliament and the Council may object following art 290 of TFEU) suspending the visa waiver for the third Country national for 12 months.

By so doing not only the EU will preserve the equality between its member states (who can no more protect themselves) but will ensure that all the EU citizens enjoy the same protection. The point is that  the Commission should have acted before 12 April 2016 as far as the US and Canada were concerned but almost one year later it has yet to take any legal measure  (see the latest Commission communication here )

Will the Commission obtain from the Trump administration what has been unable to obtain from the previous Bush and Obama administration ? We may have some doubts but the road ahead looks rather bumpy ..

——————————–

European Parliament resolution of 2 March 2017 on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (2016/2986(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–      having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 539/20011, in particular Article 1(4)

thereof (‘the reciprocity mechanism’),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 12 April 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy’ (COM(2016)0221),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 13 July 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up of the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0481),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 21 December 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up to the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0816),

–      having regard to Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 80, 265 and 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–      having regard to its debate on ‘Obligations in the field of visa reciprocity’ held on 14 December 2016 in Strasbourg,

–      having regard to the question to the Commission on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (O-000142/2016 – B8-1820/2016),

–      having regard to the motion for a resolution of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–      having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the criterion of visa reciprocity as one of the criteria guiding the EU’s visa
policy is generally understood to imply that EU citizens should be subject to the same
conditions when travelling to a third country as the nationals of that third country are when travelling to the EU;

B. whereas the purpose of the visa reciprocity mechanism is to achieve such visa
reciprocity; whereas the EU’s visa policy prohibits individual Member States from
introducing a visa requirement for nationals of a third country if this country is listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (countries whose nationals are exempt from the visa requirement for short stays);

C. whereas the reciprocity mechanism was revised in 2013, with Parliament acting as co-legislator, as it needed to be adapted in the light of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and of the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union on secondary legal bases and ‘to provide for a Union response as an act of solidarity, if a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 applies a visa requirement for nationals of at least one Member State’ (Recital 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1289/2013);

D. whereas the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure starting with a situation of non-reciprocity with precise timeframes and actions to be taken with a view to ending a situation of non-reciprocity; whereas its inherent logic entails measures of increasing severity vis-à-vis the third country concerned, including ultimately the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned (‘second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism’);

E. whereas ‘in order to ensure the adequate involvement of the European Parliament and of the Council in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism, given the particularly sensitive political nature of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all the nationals of a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 and its horizontal implications for the Member States, the Schengen associated countries and the Union itself, in particular for their external relations and for the overall functioning of the Schengen area, the power to adopt acts in accordance with Article 290 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union [was] delegated to the Commission in respect of certain elements of the reciprocity mechanism’ including the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned;

F. whereas ‘the European Parliament or the Council may decide to revoke the delegation’ (Article 290(2)(a) TFEU);

G. whereas a delegated act ‘may enter into force only if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council within a period set by the legislative act’
(Article 290(2)(b) TFEU);

H. whereas the Commission contested the choice of delegated acts in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism before the Court of Justice of the European Union, and whereas the Court considered however the choice of the legislator to be correct (Case C-88/14);

I. whereas the mechanism thereby clearly assigns obligations and responsibilities to Parliament and the Council and to the Commission in the different phases of the reciprocity mechanism;

  1. Considers the Commission to be legally obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016;
  2. Calls on the Commission, on the basis of Article 265 TFEU, to adopt the required delegated act within two months from the date of adoption of this resolution at the latest;
  3. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the European Council, the Council and the national parliaments.

(1) 1 OJ L 81, 21.3.2001, p. 1.

EXCERPT EP DEBATE (December 14) VISA RECIPROCITY

Claude MORAES (author of the Oral Question). – Mr President, (…) We now come to the important oral question, which many colleagues have been waiting for, on the very important, compelling and urgent issue of visa reciprocity. As colleagues will know, this is an ongoing issue of urgency, not just for those five countries and the citizens of those five countries – Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus – but indeed a matter of principle for the whole House on questions of symmetry and equality in our relationship with the United States.

In 2013, Parliament and the Council adopted a regulation modifying, amongst other elements, the so-called reciprocity mechanism. It entered into force in January 2014. Under EU law and according to this mechanism, if a third country does not lift visa requirements 24 months after notification of a situation of non—reciprocity, the Commission is obliged to suspend the visa waiver for citizens of that country for 12 months, via a delegated act to which Parliament and the Council could object.

Notifications of five Member States – and I have named them – were published by the Commission on 12 April 2014. There were at times cases of non—reciprocity also affecting Australia, Japan and Brunei and all of them have now been solved. After 24 months had elapsed, on 12 April 2016, the Commission, instead of presenting the delegated act as we required, decided to publish a communication asking the Council and Parliament for their views. This communication was followed by another communication on 13 July updating the situation and again failing to fulfil the Commission’s obligations.

As Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, it is my view that the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure with precise time frames and actions not subject to discretionality by the Commission. Therefore, the Commission is under an obligation to adopt a delegated act pursuant to Article 1(4)(f) of Regulation 539/2001.

As the Commissioner knows, on 7 June 2016, I sent a letter reminding you, Commissioner, of the legal obligations of the Commission here. On 12 October, during the exchange we had with you in the Civil Liberties Committee, the Commission was again urged to act and all the Members who took the floor made it clear that the Commission does have some more room for manoeuvre. This was our view.

In this context, and with an overwhelming majority, we have in the Civil Liberties Committee adopted the following oral question for answer today: do you share the legal assessment according to which the Commission is obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain EU Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016? In the event that the Commission agrees with the assessment that it is obliged to adopt a delegated act, by when will the Commission present this delegated act? And finally, if the Commission does not agree, what are the reasons for not agreeing with that assessment?

This issue, as I said at the beginning of my presentation of this oral question, is not just about the deep and very understandable concerns of our colleagues from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus; it is about the idea that we in the EU have the right to expect symmetry and equality with the United States in our relationship. We are right to expect fairness. The right to expect fairness is something that we have transmitted directly to our United States partners and to the State Department in Washington, and we did so respectfully and forcefully

(…)

Commissioner AVRAMOPOULOS : Mr President, honourable Members of the Parliament, let me start by telling you that I welcome the opportunity to discuss this very important matter, being already fully aware of your expectations. In October I discussed this with the members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). You will remember that, Mr Moraes. It should be clear that we all share the same objective. Full visa reciprocity is the central principle of our visa policy framework. With the United States and Canada it is a challenging and sensitive issue, and we all hope for tangible progress.

Before responding to the questions, let me start with the good news concerning Canada. As I told you in the past, I used the window of opportunity offered to us, the EU-Canada summit. A series of meetings and discussions were held ahead in order to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. I took the plane myself to meet in person the Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum, in order to address the real situation at political and not at technocratic level. We had a very constructive discussion with the minister and we agreed to engage in a political process to address each other’s concerns and make the lifting of visa obligations for Romania and Bulgaria possible. Indeed, and as I had hinted in my meeting with LIBE, Canada took a positive decision in line with the commitment of McCallum in July. At the summit Canada announced its decision to lift in late 2017 the visa requirements for all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Moreover, certain categories of Bulgarian and Romanian travellers who visited Canada in the past 10 years, or who currently possess a valid visa issued by the United States, will already become visa-free from 1 May 2017.

We all welcome very much this outcome. It is a strong indication that diplomatic channels and engagement can achieve positive results. On this point, I would like to thank Members of Parliament for their constructive contribution too. We worked in close coordination with Bulgaria and Romania and they played a central role in addressing Canadian concerns. We have to continue this path to ensure that full visa waiver is achieved. The Commission will continue to do its part, in full cooperation with both Member States.

Now the situation with the United States is different. While I continue discussions with our US partners, most recently at the EU-US JHA Ministerial Meeting on 5 December in Washington, there is no progress to report. But I want to assure you that I will keep this issue high on the agenda with the new administration and Congress. I will personally immediately engage in conference with my new counterparts. I call on all of you to give a chance for the political discussion to take place and to explain the mutual obligations, reservations, goals and work to find a solution.

It is very important to understand that the role of Congress is crucial. The visa waiver programme cannot be expanded without Congress, particularly if Member States do not meet the thresholds of US legislation. It seems certain that temporarily suspending the visa waiver for US citizens would immediately lead to a visa requirement imposed on all EU citizens. We are aiming for the opposite, not a reciprocal visa requirement but a reciprocal visa waiver. Let me be very clear. The Commission would not hesitate to adopt the respective acts if that would improve the situation of EU citizens, and lead to the visa waiver for all. At the same time, the Commission has a responsibility to inform you, the co-legislators, about negative consequences on the EU and its citizens from the implementation of our rules.

And this leads me to your questions. There is a regulation that says ‘the Commission shall adopt a delegated act’. But there are also other requirements and obligations to be followed which are difficult to reconcile with this obligation, and which are equally important. The same regulation says that: ‘the Commission shall take into account the consequences of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirements for the external relations of the Union and its Member States with the third country in question’.

The approach we put forward back in April outlined these adverse consequences. We still consider that the negative impacts we identified, which were not questioned by other institutions and stakeholders, should be taken fully into account. If a visa requirement is reintroduced, it will be difficult to explain to millions of EU citizens travelling to the United States every year that the EU serves their interests and that the EU action was appropriate in this case. Would legal arguments be convincing for thousands of EU citizens that would likely lose their jobs due to the expected decrease of US visitors? I very much doubt it.

A recent study for the World Travel and Tourism Council suggests that suspending the visa waiver would annually lead to a 22% drop in visitors to the European Union, or 5.5 million fewer visitors from the United States and Canada. This will be equal to a loss of EUR 6.8 billion annually, risking the loss of 140 000 jobs in the tourism industry. The most affected Member States will be Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. I am asking the question: can we really afford that loss?

Dear Members of Parliament, we are in a very unpleasant situation, but determined to work to achieve visa-free travel for all EU citizens to the United States, as we managed to do with Canada. Let us work together in this effort

 

 

Today’s Court (non) decision on the (non) EU “deal”(?) with Turkey..

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

eu-turkeystatement-junckertuskturkey-180316

The General Court has declared today that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by three asylum seekers against the EU-Turkey statement which was concluded to resolve the EU “migration” crisis.

On 18 March 2016, a statement setting out how the Member States of the EU and Turkey aiming primarily to address the current migration crisis and secondly to combat human trafficking between Turkey and Greece (‘the EU-Turkey statement’) was published, in the form of a press release, on the website shared by the European Council and the Council of the European Union. The main points of that statement are the following:

  1. a) all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;
  2. b) migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive;
  3. c) migrants not applying for asylum or whose application for asylum has been found to be unfounded or inadmissible will be returned to Turkey;
  4. d) for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the European Union.

Several doubts have already been raised concerning the nature and the classification of the ‘EU-Turkey statement‘. In particular, the legal nature of the agreement with Turkey was debated before the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament following a presentation by the legal service of that institution. The latter has considered that the so called EU-Turkey ‘deal’ is not legally binding but it is just a political catalogue of measures adopted on their own specific legal basis.

While on its side the European Parliament decided to follow its legal service approach by considering that, no matter of what had been negotiated, it remains free to adopt or not the legislative, budgetary and operational measures which can implement the agreement, the European Council was notified on 31 May and 2 June 2016 of three similar applications for annulment lodged before the General of the EU Court of Justice under Article 263 TFEU.

The three applications were directed against the European Council and were asking the Court to annul the ‘EU-Turkey statement’ which had been issued following the meeting of 18 March 2016 of the Members of the European Council and their Turkish counterpart.

On that occasion, the applicants, two Pakistani nationals and an Afghan national, challenged the ‘EU-Turkey’ statement, considering that the statement constitutes an agreement which could produce legal effects adversely affecting the applicants’ rights and interests.

The two Pakistani nationals and an Afghan national, in fact, travelled from Turkey to Greece, where they submitted applications for asylum. In those applications, they stated that, for a variety of reasons, they would risk persecution if they were returned to their respective countries of origin. In view of the possibility, pursuant to the ‘EU-Turkey statement’, that they might be returned to Turkey if their applications for asylum were rejected, those persons decided to bring actions before the General Court of the European Union with a view to challenging the legality of the ‘EU-Turkey statement’.

According to those asylum seekers, that statement is an international agreement which the European Council, as an institution acting in the name of the EU, concluded with the Republic of Turkey. In particular, they claimed that this agreement represented an infringement of the rules of the TFUE (confirmed by the EU Charter of fundamental rights) as well as the procedure for the the conclusion of international agreements by the EU (218 TFEU).

In the orders made today, the General Court has declared that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions pursuant to Article 263 TFEU as the EU Member States are not listed in that article . In such orders, the Court recognises , first of all, that there were inaccuracies in the press release of 18 March 2016 regarding the identification of the authors of the ‘EU-Turkey statement’. The press release indicated, firstly, that it was the EU, and not its Member States, which had agreed on the additional action points referred to in that statement and, secondly, that it was the ‘Members of the European Council’ who had met with their Turkish counterpart during the meeting of 18 March 2016 which had given rise to that press release.

Considering that neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU has decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish Government on the subject of the migration crisis, the Court has therefore concluded that, in the absence of any act of an institution of the EU, the legality of which it could review under Article 263 TFEU, it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers.

The Court has, in fact, considered that, even supposing that an international agreement could have been informally concluded during the meeting of 18 March 2016, (something which has been denied by the European Council, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission) in the present case, that agreement would have been an agreement concluded by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU and the Turkish Prime Minister and not by the European Council itself. In an action brought under Article 263 TFEU, however, the Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the Member States.

Even assuming that the Court has no competence to intervene in such a case, the real problem is that apparently the General Court does not object on the fact that all the members of an EU institution can adopt measures falling in the EU competence without being bound by the EU law (procedural and material). This fuzziness  on the legal nature of ‘the EU-Turkey statement’ paves the way on further questions. Do the EU Member States have the power to act in a matter which is already covered by EU measures such as the EU-Turkey readmission agreement? Does this behavior comply with the principle of sincere cooperation between the MS and the EU institutions and notably the European Parliament which will be under the moral obligation to implement measures which it has not approved?  By  following this “creative” path the EU is not trying to introduce a new approach under which readmission agreements will not be more necessary because replaced by other informal agreements, in order to bypass the rules laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements.

The Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU  represents yet another attempt to conclude a readmission agreement, while bypassing the rules laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements.

The Joint Way Forward declaration aims to facilitate the return process of irregular Afghans and to support their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while fighting the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers at the same time. More precisely, the objective, as stated in the document, is “to establish a rapid, effective and manageable process for a smooth, dignified and orderly return of Afghan nationals who do not fulfil the conditions in force for entry to, presence in, or residence on the territory of the EU, and to facilitate their reintegration in Afghanistan in a spirit of cooperation”.

The document also clarifies that “in their cooperation under this declaration, the EU and Afghanistan remain committed to all their international obligations, in particular: a) respecting the provisions of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol; b) upholding the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; c) respecting the safety, dignity and human rights of irregular migrants subject to a return and readmission procedure”.

Actually, the declaration was defined by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, as ‘an informal agreement’ which is not legally binding and which, as stated in the document, simply “paves the way for a structural dialogue and cooperation on migration issues, based on a commitment to identify effective ways to address the needs of both sides”.

Once again, a readmission agreement concluded by the European Commission has been technically presented as a ‘statement’, in order to bypass the European Parliament’s democratic scrutiny and the necessary legal procedures or the conclusion of readmission agreements.

As noted by Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, the readmission agreement with Turkey of 18 March 2016 originated in the form of two letters and an informal declaration and the European Union has adopted the same approach with Afghanistan and it will probably do the same with the other countries which have been identified as priority targets of the new Partnership Framework on migration.

The legal basis for the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries is Article 79(3) TFEU which states that “the Union may conclude agreements with third countries for the readmission to their countries of origin or provenance of third-country nationals who do not or who no longer fulfil the conditions for entry, presence or residence in the territory of one of the Member States”. These agreements are negotiated with the partner country on the basis of a negotiating mandate grated by the Council to the Commission and they are then concluded after the European Parliament has given its consent.

According to article 218(6) TFEU the European Parliament must, in fact, give its consent prior to the conclusion of association and similar agreements. Moreover, according to article 210(10) TFEU the European Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.

The result of these covert negotiations is a continuous ‘discharge of responsibilities’ which has led a non-transparent, grey zone in which the European Commission, under pressure from some Member States, and Germany in particular, appears to have possibility to do whatever it wants, without allowing any debate in the European Parliament and, most importantly, leaving possible human rights violations unchallenged by the elected representatives of the European citizens.

Like for the agreement with Turkey of March 2016, Germany has hardly fought for a rapid adoption of an agreement with Afghanistan. Faced with the rise in arrivals form Afghanistan, in October 2015 the German Ministry of Interior Thomas de Maizières had already announced that Germany wanted to return to Afghanistan all the Afghan nationals who were not eligible for asylum, including those who had lived in Iran or Pakistan and, consequently, had no link to Afghanistan itself, and that to do so he would have urged the European Union to negotiate an agreement with the government of Kabul.

However, unlike the case of the EU-Turkey statement, it is clear that the Joint Way Forward declaration is an agreement concluded between the European Union and the government of Afghanistan. As such, the agreement should be subjected to the exercise of the democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament, as provided by EU law regarding the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries.

Such a non-transparent approach not only prevents from any form of democratic scrutiny but also ignores the concerns of the civil society about the major risks of rights violations, such as the principle of non-refoulement, exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment, protection against collective expulsions and the right to an effective remedy.

magrittepipe

(*) FREE Group trainee

Terrorisme et droit des réfugiés, des liaisons dangereuses ? Libres propos sur le « Muslim Ban » et la jurisprudence Lounani de la Cour de justice

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE ON 13 FÉVRIER 2017

par  Henri Labayle

Les polémiques entourant l’application de l’Executive Order signé le 25 janvier 2017 par Donald Trump, président des Etats Unis nouvellement élu, interdisant temporairement l’entrée aux Etats-Unis aux ressortissants de sept pays et suspendant le jeu de la protection internationale, ont quitté les colonnes médiatiques pour pénétrer les prétoires. Motivé par le désir de lutter préventivement contre le terrorisme, selon ses auteurs, et par une volonté discriminatoire envers les musulmans, selon ses détracteurs, le texte pose de graves problèmes juridiques.

L’attention qu’on lui porte ne doit pas masquer qu’au même moment, le 31 janvier 2017, la Cour de justice de l’Union prononçait un arrêt important sur les liens qui peuvent être établis entre la nécessité de lutter contre le terrorisme et le dispositif protecteur des réfugiés politiques (CJUE, 31 janvier 2017, Lounani, C-573/16).

Si l’on ajoute à ces épisodes majeurs l’émoi provoqué en Turquie le 26 janvier 2017 par le refus de la Cour suprême grecque d’accepter l’extradition de huit militaires turcs qualifiés eux-aussi de « terroristes », on mesure à quel point les liaisons dangereuses désormais établies au grand jour entre le droit des réfugiés et la lutte contre le terrorisme deviennent monnaie courante et alimentent le débat public, juridique ou pas.

Ce constat mérite un éclairage et suscite une réflexion d’autant plus nécessaire que ces liaisons sont parfois fondées, malheureusement. Depuis le 11 septembre 2001, la lutte contre le terrorisme met en question ouvertement le jeu des règles du droit des réfugiés, à force d’amalgames (I), au risque de fragiliser la protection qui est due à ces réfugiés (II). D’où l’intérêt d’un contrôle attentif du juge, interne comme européen (III).

1. La stigmatisation croissante du droit des réfugiés

Dès le lendemain des attentats du 11 septembre, la brèche s’est ouverte aux yeux de tous. On se souvient en effet qu’en réaction, lors de sa session extraordinaire du 20 septembre, le Conseil « Justice et affaires intérieures » avait immédiatement invité la Commission à examiner le « rapport entre la sauvegarde de la sécurité intérieure et le respect des obligations et instruments internationaux en matière de protection ». A cette insinuation à peine dissimulée, la Commission avait opposé un rappel du droit positif en la matière (COM (2001) 743).

S’il n’était guère envisageable, à l’époque, de remettre sérieusement en question la protection offerte par les règles de l’asile conventionnel, même au vu des attentats du WTC, en revanche, quinze ans plus tard, le contexte a changé. La montée en charge du terrorisme aveugle éclaire différemment l’attitude politique des Etats, sinon des institutions de l’Union, et la tentation des uns ou des autres est grande d’infléchir le droit.

Un nombre grandissant d’affaires, pas toujours contentieuses, ont ainsi fait la démonstration que les deux questions, terrorisme et protection internationale, n’étaient plus aussi étanches que par le passé. La mise à jour de leurs relations a obligé à une réflexion d’ensemble, entamée sans états d’âme par exemple avec l’élargissement des missions de Frontex aux questions sécuritaires. La connexion des deux grands volets de l’Espace de liberté, sécurité justice de l’Union, ceux de la sécurité et de la migration, s’est désormais opérée sans que l’on en ait mesuré exactement les risques et les implications.

Lointaines peuvent sembler à ce titre ces premières interrogations de la fin des années quatre-vingt, lorsque le Conseil d’Etat français autorisa la livraison vers l’Espagne de terroristes basques malgré leurs prétentions au refuge, tout en exigeant la perte de leur statut protecteur. Tout aussi éloignés paraissent les débats relatifs au fait du prince d’un ancien président de la République, se croyant en droit d’accorder le refuge à un ancien terroriste italien, avant que le Conseil d’Etat ne dénie toute portée juridique à cette prétention. Beaucoup plus douloureuses, en revanche, sont des affaires comme celle de l’inspirateur présumé de l’attentat d’Istanbul, Ahmed Tchataïev, auquel l’Autriche accorda le statut de réfugié politique et dont la CEDH avait interdit la livraison à la Russie en 2010. Bien plus parlantes, enfin et parmi d’autres, sont les affaires Nasr et Ghali c. Italieet Abu Qatada c. Royaume Uni, tranchées par la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme.

Dans la première, à Rome, la « restitution extraordinaire » d’un membre d’un mouvement islamiste considéré comme terroriste, effectuée par des services secrets américains, va ainsi donner l’occasion de constater que l’intéressé, condamné par la justice italienne pour des faits de terrorisme, n’en bénéficiait pas moins du statut de réfugié politique délivré par l’Italie. Dans l’autre affaire, relative à un prêcheur islamiste radical convaincu de liens avec Al Qaida et chantre du terrorisme favori des tabloïds britanniques, il s’avèrera à l’examen que, là encore, les autorités locales lui avaient accordé le statut de réfugié politique.

Que, le plus souvent, le refuge soit accordé en raison du risque de traitements attentatoires aux droits de l’Homme dans l’Etat où ils sont poursuivis laisse cependant les opinions publiques nationales aussi indifférentes à l’explication juridique qu’incrédules devant ce qu’elles interprètent comme une défaillance de la puissance publique. Pire, elles en attribuent la responsabilité à l’intégration européenne.

D’autant que ces brèches dans l’idée, généralement partagée jusqu’alors, selon laquelle les demandeurs de protection internationale sont avant tout des victimes et non des bourreaux se sont notablement s’élargies à la suite des attentats en France et en Belgique.

Les enquêtes judiciaires démontrent en effet que la crise migratoire de l’été 2015 a été utilisée, ponctuellement mais à plusieurs reprises, par les commandos ayant frappé en France pour circuler en toute impunité. Ce dont atteste le rapport annuel 2016 de Frontex sur l’analyse des risques, constatant que deux des responsables des attentats de Paris en novembre avaient utilisé la couverture du flot de réfugiés pour pénétrer illégalement dans l’Union. Pratique identique à celle de suspects d’un attentat avorté à Dusseldorf en 2016, avant que le dossier de l’auteur de l’attentat du marché de Noel de Berlin ne révèle qu’il avait été auparavant demandeur d’asile. L’effet de ces constats est dévastateur pour l’acceptation du droit des réfugiés et sa légitimité.

Aux yeux de l’opinion publique, l’équation terrorisme/réfugiés ou migration s’ancre ainsi progressivement, irrationnellement, comme le constate en vain Gilles de Kerchove, coordonnateur de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Que le Rapporteur spécial du Conseil des droits de l’homme sur la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales dans la lutte antiterroriste de l’ONU, Ben Emmerson, s’efforce de faire la démonstration de cette absence de liens ou même que les Etats Unis d’avant Donald Trump aient ouvertement reconnu que les deux questions n’étaient pas liées n’émeut pas davantage.

Une rhétorique nouvelle au sein de l’Union européenne s’en nourrit et prospère. A l’Est notamment, hostile à la fois à l’accueil et au jeu de la solidarité dans la répartition des demandeurs de protection dans l’Union. Le risque terroriste sera ainsi ouvertement évoqué par les dirigeants de plusieurs Etats lors de la crise migratoire, quand leur propre justice ne qualifiera pas de « terroristes » ceux qui franchissent leurs frontières …

Comment ne pas comprendre que cette dérive ait alors inspiré la mise en application du programme de Donald Trump et que son action ait reçu un écho parfois favorable dans certaines capitales ? Du Premier ministre slovaque, Robert Fico, désireux « d’empêcher la création d’une communauté musulmane dans le pays » aux réticences polonaises et au blocage hongrois, tout va concourir dans une partie de l’Union à la chaude approbation du décret du nouveau président américain par son homologue tchèque : « Trump is protecting his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens… the safety of Czech citizens is a priority. Now we have allies in the US ».

En droit, et ce n’est pas le plus simple à manier aux yeux des citoyens de l’Union, il n’en va pas aussi facilement.

2. L’étendue de la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés

Sous deux angles très différents, l’Union européenne et les Etats Unis d’Amérique viennent d’être confrontés à cette relation délicate qu’il convient d’établir entre les obligations relatives à la protection internationale d’une part, et, d’autre part l’impératif qu’il y a à prévenir et à lutter contre le terrorisme international. Avec une intelligence certaine, la Cour de justice s’emploie ainsi à démontrer que la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés, celui de Genève comme celui de l’Union, n’est pas sans limites. Balayant toute nuance, l’exécutif américain a choisi au contraire la brutalité.

Les termes du droit international positif sont clairs, posant des interdits autant que des possibilités d’agir (a). Au nom de la prévention du terrorisme et en des termes très politiques, l’Executive order signé par Donald Trump, le 27 janvier 2017 a pourtant défrayé la chronique internationale par son ampleur (b) . A l’opposé, dans une démarche très juridique, la Cour de justice s’est efforcée de démontrer que le cadre existant ne privait pas les Etats de moyens de répondre au terrorisme, le 31 janvier 2017 dans l’affaire Lounani (a).

a) – Le contenu des obligations pesant sur les Etats

L’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève, au respect desquels les Etats Unis d’Amérique comme les Etats membres de l’Union sont tenus, la déclare non applicable « aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser :

a)  qu’elles ont commis un crime contre la paix, un crime de guerre ou un crime contre l’humanité, au sens des instruments internationaux élaborés pour prévoir des dispositions relatives à ces crimes; 


b)  qu’elles ont commis un crime grave de droit commun en dehors du pays d’accueil avant d’y être admises comme réfugiées ; 


c)  qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations Unies».

A cela, la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne ajoute ses interdits quant à l’impossibilité de renvoyer un individu, quel qu’il soit, vers une destination où il risquerait d’être soumis à un traitement prohibé par les articles 2 et 3 de la CEDH. Ce qui a permis à la protection dite « subsidiaire » de trouver reconnaissance sans que cela signifie un seul instant une quelconque approbation de la cause défendue.

Deux articles clés de la Convention de Genève, ordonnent ensuite le débat autour de cette « pierre angulaire » du régime juridique applicable aux réfugiés, comme la Cour de justice s’en est fait déjà l’écho (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, point 77).

Son article 33, d’abord, interdit à la fois l’expulsion et le refoulement dans son §1er : « aucun des Etats Contractants n’expulsera ou ne refoulera, de quelque manière que ce soit, un réfugié sur les frontières des territoires où sa vie ou sa liberté serait menacée en raison de sa race, de sa religion, de sa nationalité, de son appartenance à un certain groupe social ou de ses opinions politiques ». La force de cette interdiction est soulignée par le fait que, en vertu de l’article 42 du texte, aucune réserve étatique n’est admise à ce sujet.

Certes, en vertu du §2 du même article 33, le bénéfice de cette disposition ne peut être invoqué par un réfugié qu’il y aura des raisons sérieuses de considérer comme un danger pour la sécurité du pays où il se trouve ou qui, ayant été l’objet d’une condamnation définitive pour un crime ou délit particulièrement grave, « constitue une menace pour la communauté dudit pays ».

D’où la confrontation de ces interdits avec les pratiques américaines ou européennes, qu’il s’agisse de prévenir le terrorisme ou de lui répondre.

b) – Droit des réfugiés et prévention du terrorisme

Telle est la motivation avancée par le texte de l’Executive order du 27 janvier 2017. Il ne fait aucun mystère des liens qu’il établit a priori entre terrorisme et immigration irrégulière et son intitulé est sans ambiguïté aucune à l’instant d’expliciter son objectif : « Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States ».

Aussi, indépendamment des questions portant sur la suspension des visas des ressortissants d’un certain nombre de pays tiers, dont sept Etats ciblés au Proche Orient (Irak, Iran, Libye, Somalie, Soudan, Syrie, Yémen), la volonté présidentielle vise-t-elle spécifiquement les étrangers à la recherche d’une protection. Ce que la section 5 du texte exprime en affichant un « Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017 ». Celui-ci comporte des mesures clairement contraires aux obligations internationales pesant sur les Etats Unis.

Il procède, en premier lieu, à la suspension du programme d’admission des États -Unis pour les réfugiés (USRAP) pendant 120 jours. Ces quatre mois permettront au Secrétaire d’Etat d’examiner l’état du droit existant, pourtant déjà réputé comme restrictif, et de déterminer les modifications éventuelles des procédures garantissant que l’admission des réfugiés ne constitue pas une menace à la sécurité et le bien-être des Etats-Unis.

Cette suspension est assortie d’une précision chiffrée quant à la capacité d’accueil des USA : leur président « proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest » (Section 5, d)).

Il y ajoute ensuite des instructions particulièrement problématiques visant à distinguer les « bons » des « mauvais » demandeurs d’asile et à leur donner priorité, notamment à partir de critères religieux : invitation est ainsi faite au Secrétaire d’Etat, en consultation avec son homologue à la Sécurité intérieure, de modifier les pratiques existantes, « to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious- based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality » (Section 5, b)).

Enfin, pour ce qui est des ressortissants syriens qui sont aujourd’hui l’objet d’une préoccupation majeure de la Communauté internationale du point de vue des besoins de protection, le couperet tombe : leur entrée en tant que réfugiés est jugée comme « contraire aux intérêts des Etats Unis » et donc interdite par principe jusqu’à réexamen : « I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest ».

Inversant la logique qui structure le droit humanitaire, celle qui voudrait qu’il profite avant tout à la personne, l’Executive order du 27 janvier reconnaît la possibilité de dérogations discrétionnaires mais bornées par un constat sidérant. Ainsi, une admission dérogatoire peut être envisagée, au cas par cas, si elle est « in the national interest » (sic !!!), et pour des motifs liés notamment à l’existence de persécutions religieuses dont on voit bien à quoi elles réfèrent.

Il est donc difficile de ne pas conclure à un mépris délibéré des obligations internationales des Etats Unis. Cela est à la fois potentiellement avéré pour ce qui est de l’obligation de non-refoulement et tout à fait évident pour ce qui est de l’article 3 de la convention de Genève.

Ce dernier affirme que « les Etats Contractants appliqueront les dispositions de cette Convention aux réfugiés sans discrimination quant à la race, la religion ou le pays d’origine ». Rapidement qualifié par la presse et les opinions publiques comme un « Muslim Ban », le texte du président nouvellement élu est clairement discriminatoire, ce dont son auteur ne faisait guère mystère lors des débats électoraux. On comprend alors la volée internationale de bois vert qui l’a accueilli, d’Angela Merkel au Secrétaire général des Nations Unies et de nombre de ses collaborateurs en matière de droits fondamentaux sans que le HCR, vraisemblablement inquiet pour ses modalités de fonctionnement, ne se signale par une virulence particulière.

Il reste qu’en dehors d’une action étatique improbable devant la Cour de justice, rien ne menace en fait l’unilatéralisme américain en l’espèce. ce dernier n’en serait qu’à ses débuts si l’on en croit la promesse d’un nouvel Executive order relatif à la position des Etats Unis dans les négociations des traités relatifs aux droits de l’Homme…

c) – Exclusion du statut de réfugié et participation à des activités terroristes

La question n’est, malheureusement, pas nouvelle. La Cour de justice a déjà eu à en connaître à propos d’individus convaincus de connivences terroristes avant leur arrivée sur le territoire de l’Union, dans un pays tiers, et désireux soit de conserver soit d’obtenir le statut de réfugié (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09 précité). Le juge avait eu à cette occasion à interpréter les « clauses d’exclusion » de la protection telles que les définit l’article 12 de la directive 2004/83 dite « qualification ». Elle avait eu aussi à se pencher sur les conséquences à en tirer quant à un titre de séjour, comme l’on en a traité déjà vu ici (CJUE, 24 juin 2015, H.T, C-373/13).

Le 31 janvier, le problème posé était sensiblement différent, à plusieurs égards. Le requérant, Mostafa Lounani, s’était vu reconnaître, en appel et en 2010, la qualité de réfugié par le Conseil belge du contentieux des étrangers, au motif de sa crainte de persécution en cas de retour dans son pays d’origine.

Inscrit sur la liste antiterroriste des Nations Unies depuis 2002, ce ressortissant marocain avait été condamné en 2006 en Belgique à une peine de six ans d’emprisonnement pour « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », en l’occurrence un réseau islamique, ceci en tant que membre dirigeant. Il participait en effet à l’activité d’une cellule apportant son soutien logistique à un mouvement terroriste envoyant des « combattants étrangers » en Irak. L’activité terroriste incriminée se situait donc ici sur le territoire de l’Union, à l’inverse de l’affaire B. et D.

Pourtant, le juge national des étrangers estimait que les faits spécifiquement reprochés à M. Lounani ne constituaient pas des infractions terroristes en tant que telles, sa condamnation ayant été prononcée pour son « appartenance » à un groupe terroriste et non pour la commission précise et individualisée d’un acte terroriste. Selon le juge interne, aucun des agissements pour lesquels M. Lounani avait été condamné n’atteignait le degré de gravité requis pour être qualifié d’« agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » au sens de la directive 2004/83, ce pourquoi le juge avait refusé de modifier sa position, malgré une première censure par le Conseil d’Etat.

Plutôt que de poursuivre un bras de fer inutile avec le Conseil du contentieux des étrangers, le Conseil d’Etat belge désirait donc savoir dans quelles conditions un demandeur de protection peut être exclu du statut de réfugié pour des « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » lorsqu’il a fait l’objet d’une condamnation pénale pour participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste, sans avoir lui-même commis un acte de terrorisme. Il avait donc saisi la Cour de justice à titre préjudiciel sur ce point.

Répondre à cette interrogation impliquait de mobiliser à la fois le droit de l’Union applicable aux réfugiés mais aussi celui relatif au terrorisme et, notamment, la décision-cadre 2002/475 dont l’article 1er liste les « infractions terroristes », le tout à la lumière du droit de Genève. Conclure à la coïncidence de l’article 12 §2 de la directive 2004/83 et de l’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève était donc l’enjeu de l’arrêt rendu le 31 janvier. Une lecture commune des « agissements contraires aux buts et principes des Nations Unies » figurant dans les deux textes aurait ainsi établi une passerelle susceptible de stigmatiser les actes terroristes mais aussi la participation aux activités d’un réseau terroriste.

Le juge a donc été en charge d’opérer les rappels nécessaires au droit, au plan interne américain comme au plan européen.

3. La complémentarité des protections juridictionnelles

Paradoxalement et bien qu’ils aient été saisis dans un contexte qui n’est absolument pas comparable, le juge interne américain et européen ont, à quelques jours près, et la coïncidence est remarquable, parlé le même langage : celui de la légitimité de la défense de l’Etat dans un contexte terroriste, couplée à son caractère démocratique.

a) – la protection offerte par le juge interne

Si elle a défrayé bruyamment la chronique en ce qu’elle a tenu en échec un président nouvellement élu auquel elle infligeait un démenti cinglant, l’intervention du juge fédéral américain est, quasiment pour l‘essentiel, située sur le terrain du droit interne. Elle est, à ce titre, largement approuvée par la doctrine américaine et la presse. Elle n’en est pas moins instructive quant à la haute image que le juge se fait de sa fonction.

L’Etat de Washington et celui de Minnesota ayant eu gain de cause dans un premier temps devant un juge fédéral avec la suspension de l’Executive order, le 3 février 2017, l’appel de Donald Trump formé devant la Cour d’appel de San Francisco était particulièrement attendu, par les observateurs comme par les milliers de personnes touchées par la mesure. Ce dernier a conduit à un débat contentieux centré sur des questions de nature constitutionnelle, tranché par un rejet de l’appel prononcé à l’unanimité (State of Washington, State of Minnesota V. Donald J. Trump No. 17-35105).

L’essentiel de l’enjeu, aux yeux de la quinzaine d’Etats, des 130 entreprises et des 300 professeurs de droit s’étant transformés en « amicus curiae », était moins d’ordre conventionnel que constitutionnel : quel contrôle judiciaire effectuer sur une telle décision de l’exécutif, au risque de transgresser la séparation des pouvoirs comme ce dernier le défendait devant la Cour ?

La réponse unanime de la Cour d’appel est sans détours. Elle renvoie solennellement aux composantes d’un Etat de droit : « there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy ».

A cet égard, elle devrait calmer les ardeurs des partisans de la poursuite de la querelle devant la Cour suprême : « although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context ». En d’autres termes, « it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action ».

La question centrale pour notre propos, celle de la situation contentieuse des demandeurs de protection et de la violation évidente du principe de non-discrimination, a donc été largement évitée, même si elle était lourdement mise en avant par les Etats fédérés et diverses associations.

Néanmoins, conscient de la gravité des enjeux et des conséquences individuelles du texte, le juge d’appel est visiblement préoccupé par la facilité avec laquelle le terrorisme fournit un alibi facile aux gouvernants pour porter atteinte aux principes fondamentaux. S’il se borne à quelques remarques qui font mouche, au point de laisser douter de l’utilité d’un recours au juge constitutionnel, il n’en démonte pas moins ouvertement la crédibilité des arguments avancés pour adopter le « Muslim Ban », multipliant les allusions directes à l’absence de démonstration probante d’une menace terroriste par ses auteurs.

Quant à la discrimination religieuse que niait l’exécutif malgré de nombreux propos publics tenus lors de la campagne électorale, la Cour note l’importance des griefs soulevés par les Etats sur ce terrain constitutionnel : « in light of the sensitive interests involved, the pace of the current emergency proceedings, and our conclusion that the Government has not met its burden of showing likelihood of success on appeal on its arguments with respect to the due process claim, we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed ».

Quant au sérieux de la motivation de l’Executive order, enfin, le juge fédéral est cruel pour son auteur : « the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above ».

De façon plus générale, à l’instant de mettre en balance intérêt général et intérêts individuels, « the Government has not shown that a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury …. Although we agree that “the Government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order …, the Government has done little more than reiterate that fact. Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence to rebut the States’ argument that the district court’s order merely returned the nation temporarily to the position it has occupied for many previous years ».

La coupe est alors pleine : « finally, in evaluating the need for a stay, we must consider the public interest generally… Aspects of the public interest favor both sides, as evidenced by the massive attention this case has garnered at even the most preliminary stages. On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination. We need not characterize the public interest more definitely than this; when considered alongside the hardships discussed above, these competing public interests do not justify a stay ».

b) – l’interprétation extensive du juge de l’Union

Incapable de se plier à ses propres décisions de relocalisation des réfugiés, l’Union est encore bien loin de tels débats… Une toute autre logique anime donc la Cour de justice dans l’affaire Lounani où il lui revenait de délimiter le champ d’application de la protection offerte par le statut de réfugié, en cas de lien de son bénéficiaire avec le terrorisme et ceci dans le silence de l’article 1er F de la convention de Genève à propos de la nature de ces liens. Interpréter les dispositions de ce droit de manière à ne pas entraver la lutte nécessaire des Etats contre le terrorisme, tel était le défi à relever et le message à leur adresser.

Lire les clauses d’exclusion du statut de réfugié de la directive 2004/83 de façon étroite, en les calquant sur les infractions terroristes énumérées dans l’article 1er §1 de la décision-cadre 2002/475/JAI était une option. Elle ne permettait pas de saisir la « participation » pour laquelle M. Lounani avait été condamné en Belgique. Au contraire, faire le choix d’interpréter ces clauses d’exclusion à la lumière de la Convention de Genève permettait d’élargir leur champ.

La Cour de justice va retenir cette démarche, le 31 janvier 2017, dans la droite ligne de sa jurisprudence antérieure (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D, C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, préc.  pt 78 ; CJUE 2 décembre 2014, A e.a., C-148/13 à C‐150/13, point 46). Parce que la directive 2004/83 se réfère expressément dans sa motivation et son article 12 §2 relatif à « l’exclusion » aux « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies tels qu’ils figurent dans le préambule et aux articles 1er et 2 de la charte des Nations unies », il lui est facile de répondre. Cet article « correspond en substance à l’article 1er, section F, sous c), de la convention de Genève, lequel prévoit que les dispositions de cette convention ne seront pas applicables aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies (pt 43).

Le considérant 22 de la même directive renvoyant aux résolutions pertinentes des Nations Unies, il lui est également aisé de déduire de la résolution 1624 (2005) du Conseil de sécurité que les « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » ne se limitent pas aux « actes, méthodes et pratiques terroristes ». En effet, le Conseil de sécurité y invite les États, pour lutter contre le terrorisme, conformément aux obligations qui leur incombent en vertu du droit international, à priver d’asile et traduire en justice « quiconque prête appui au financement, à l’organisation, à la préparation ou à la commission d’actes de terrorisme, y concourt, y participe ou tente d’y participer, ou donne refuge à leurs auteurs » (pt 47). Postérieure à la décision-cadre 2002/475, la directive 2004/83 n’a donc pas entendu s’y référer et limiter son champ d’application à sa lumière.

Il restait alors à conclure sur le fait de savoir si des actes de « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », tels que ceux ayant motivé la condamnation de M. Lounani, pouvaient relever de la cause d’exclusion alors même qu’il n’avait ni commis ni tenté ou menacé de commettre un acte de terrorisme. Ici, la Cour ne se laisse en rien brider par les débats en cours au Parlement européen relatifs à l’adoption de la directive remplaçant la décision-cadre 2002/475 et démontre, quasi-explicitement que le terrorisme ne saurait se réclamer de la protection du droit de l’Union.

Pour la Cour, il est acquis que la clause d’exclusion « ne saurait être limitée aux auteurs effectifs d’actes de terrorisme mais qu’elle peut également s’étendre aux individus qui se livrent à des activités de recrutement, d’organisation, de transport ou d’équipement bénéficiant à des personnes qui se rendent dans un Etat autre que leur Etat de résidence ou de nationalité dans le dessein, notamment, de commettre, d’organiser ou de préparer des actes de terrorisme » (pt 69). Elle estime que « la participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste peut couvrir un large éventail de comportements d’un degré de gravité variable » (pt 71).

Evaluer l’impact de la condamnation pénale nationale s’avérait alors essentiel ici, d’aucuns estimant qu’elle valait automatiquement exclusion ou, a minima, « présomption réfragable » comme le gouvernement français l’avançait. La Cour a déjà rejeté cette conception dans sa jurisprudence précitée B. et D, relative au seul fait d’appartenance à une organisation terroriste, car les conditions d’exclusion présupposent un examen complet de toutes les circonstances propres à chaque cas individuel. Elle avait ainsi précisé que « l’autorité compétente doit notamment examiner le rôle qu’a effectivement joué la personne concernée dans la perpétration des actes en question, sa position au sein de l’organisation, le degré de connaissance qu’elle avait ou était censée avoir des activités de celle-ci, les éventuelles pressions auxquelles elle aurait été soumise ou d’autres facteurs susceptibles d’influencer son comportement » (pts 87 et 94).

La Cour de justice réitère ici ce point de vue en indiquant que l’exclusion ne peut avoir lieu qu’après « avoir procédé, pour chaque cas individuel, à une évaluation des faits précis dont elle a connaissance en vue de déterminer s’il existe des raisons sérieuses de penser que les actes commis par l’intéressé, qui remplit par ailleurs les critères pour obtenir le statut de réfugié, relèvent de ce cas d’exclusion » (pt 72).

Elle reprend à son compte implicitement à propos du cas Lounani la précision procédurale proposée par son avocat général, à savoir vérifier dans un premier temps si l’organisation en cause est une organisation terroriste avant d’évaluer les faits spécifiques imputés à la personne concernée (appréciation de la structure de l’organisation, de la position de la personne en son sein, de sa capacité à influencer les activités du groupe, de son implication dans la planification, la prise de décision ou la direction d’autres personnes en vue de commettre des actes de terrorisme…). En bref, il s’agit dans son esprit d’éviter la hâte avec laquelle, parfois, la lutte anti-terroriste s’affranchit des garanties procédurales individuelles.

Sur cette base, en l’espèce, sa conclusion est sans appel : « la circonstance, à la supposer établie, que le groupe dont M. Lounani était un membre dirigeant n’aurait pas perpétré d’acte de terrorisme ou que les volontaires souhaitant se rendre en Irak aidés par ce groupe n’auraient finalement pas commis de tels actes n’est, en tout état de cause, pas de nature à exclure que les agissements de M. Lounani puissent être considérés comme contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » (pt 77). Il n’est donc pas exigé qu’il ait été l’instigateur ou l’acteur de l’infraction pour procéder à son exclusion.

Dans ce contexte, la prise en considération de la décision de justice nationale est particulièrement pertinente, sans pour autant transformer la directive 2004/83 en instrument d’application de la lutte contre le terrorisme en mécanisant l’appréciation de l’Etat. Cette décision « revêt, dans le cadre de l’évaluation individuelle à laquelle doit procéder l’autorité compétente, une importance particulière » mais elle conserve intact en l’état le pouvoir d’évaluation de la situation à l’instant de se prononcer.

Au total, en ce début d’année et à l’inverse de ce qu’il est souvent avancé, le juge interne comme européen révèle ici la richesse de son office, malgré un contexte de crise sécuritaire particulièrement lourd : garantir les intérêts de la défense de la société, dans le cadre démocratique d’une Communauté et d’un Etat de droit. Faut-il vraiment se féliciter que l’actualité lui ait fourni l’occasion de nous le rappeler ?

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Human & humanitarian smugglers: Europe’s scapegoat in the ‘refugee crisis’

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Rachel Landry, Fellow for Refugee Policy, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

In the middle of one night in January 2016, Salam Aldeen received what had now become a routine call regarding boats in distress off of the coast of Greece. Since co-founding Team Humanity, a volunteer rescue organisation, in September 2015, Aldeen had responded to distress calls from approximately 200 boats with a total of approximately 10,000 refugees on board. As per protocol, Aldeen informed the Greek coast guard that he was going out in search of the boats. Yet on this particular evening, Aldeen and the four other volunteer lifeguards with him never reached the refugees in need of rescue.

When a military ship came threateningly close to their rescue boat, they altered course and headed back to shore. Before they reached land, two military vessels and the Greek coast guard surrounded them, ultimately arresting them and confiscating their boat. Their alleged crime: human smuggling. Their actions: attempting to fulfil the widely acknowledged duty to rescue at sea. Aldeen was released from prison after paying a significant fee, but is unable to leave Greece and is required to check in weekly with the Greek authorities. He awaits trial and faces up to ten years in prison.

The arrest of Aldeen and the four volunteers is far from unique. Deeply entangled within the EU’s robust fight against human smuggling in the current ‘refugee crisis’ is the threat of criminalisation of a range of humanitarian acts, which should not be punished but rather praised. The European Commission (EC) has rhetorically acknowledged the importance of ‘avoiding risks of criminalisation of those who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in distress’, yet the actions of individual Member States suggest otherwise.

The EC is scheduled to release a proposal by the end of 2016 to ‘improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling’. As such, it has been reviewing Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (Facilitation Directive), legislation that governs human smuggling in addition to other acts facilitating the transit and stay of irregular migrants. Given the much-needed review of the Facilitation Directive and the current strategy to combat abhorrent and ‘humanitarian’ acts of smuggling alike, it is a critical moment to reflect upon the moral quality and complexities of human smuggling.

I offer five observations as a preliminary framework for considering the deficiencies in the Facilitation Directive and where the boundary between blameworthy acts of smuggling and blameless acts of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ should be drawn. These observations stem from my recently published research through the Refugee Studies Centre, The ‘humanitarian smuggling’ of refugees: Criminal offence or moral obligation?

  1.       Combatting human smuggling and all humanitarian acts construed as such are in service of the larger goals of deterring and securitising irregular migration.

The EU is employing all possible tactics to deter refugees and migrants from attempting to reach its Member States’ shores – from the United Nations Security Council Resolution permitting EU security forces to intercept vessels suspected of human smuggling off the coast of Libya, to the deployment of NATO warships in the Aegean Sea, to the EU-Turkey deal to send those arriving irregularly back to Turkey. These policies of deterrence and securitisation are neither ad hoc nor unprecedented. Rather, they are integral to EU law governing irregular migrants and those who assist them.

Notably, the Facilitation Directive is first and foremost concerned with deterring irregular migration. As the first paragraph of the Directive states: ‘[o]ne of the objectives of the European Union is the gradual creation of an area of freedom, security, and justice, which means, inter alia, that illegal immigration must be combatted’. Prohibiting the facilitation of irregular entry is merely one means to combat irregular migration. As Spena argues, ‘[p]aradoxical as it may seem, in the Facilitation Directive’s approach, smuggling, as a form of facilitation, is only wrongful in an ancillary way, as if it was only a form of complicity in the real wrong which is the wrong of irregular migration’. The focus on deterring irregular migration produces a disregard for the smuggled migrants themselves, highlighted by the fact that the Directive does not define its relationship to international human rights or refugee law.

  1.     The Facilitation Directive, as transposed into national law, permits the criminalisation of genuinely humanitarian acts.  

The infringements set out in the Facilitation Directive mirror its expansive intent to sanction, most regularly through criminal law, a wide range of activities that may support irregular migration. Article 1.1.a stipulates that Member States:

shall adopt appropriate sanctions on: any person who intentionally assists a person who is not a national of a Member State to enter, or transit across, the territory of a Member State in breach of the laws of the State concerned on the entry or transit of aliens.  

Article 1.2 includes an optional ‘humanitarian clause’, which applies only to Article 1.1a such that ‘[a]ny Member State may decide not to impose sanctions…where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned’.

The majority of Member States have transposed Article 1.1a expansively, permitting the criminalisation of a broad range of individuals facilitating irregular entry – from members of smuggling rings putting refugees in deliberate danger to volunteers rescuing refugees in peril at sea. The optional humanitarian exemption ultimately permits the criminalisation of what seems to be a limitless spectrum of activity at the national level, failing to enable subjects to orientate their behaviour accordingly and even prohibiting ethically defensible, if not praiseworthy, acts like those of Aldeen. According to a 2014 report by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the optional ‘humanitarian clause’ has been explicitly transposed in a variety of forms at the national level in only eight Member States.

  1.        The historic example of the rescue of the Danish Jews during World War II clearly illustrates, with the benefit of hindsight, the moral necessity and praiseworthiness of certain acts of smuggling.

The current ‘refugee crisis’ is regularly referred to as the largest crisis since World War II. Equally, international cooperation to resettle refugees in the aftermath of WWII is frequently invoked as a response that should be emulated today. Less frequently invoked, however, are those ‘humanitarian smugglers’known today simply as heroes – who rescued Jews from persecution long before the international community stepped in.

In 1943, 95% of the Jewish population in Denmark was able to escape deportation to concentration camps, in large part due to the collective action of fellow citizens and the Danish resistance movement. When the Nazi regime formalised the order to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps in September 1943, within two weeks Danes mobilised to successfully smuggle more than 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety in Sweden, predominantly by way of Danish fishermen.

Those individuals who effectively evacuated almost the entire Jewish population out of Denmark not only made an assessment of the likely consequences and certainty of the impending harm for the Danish Jews if they did not act, but also accepted significant risks to their own lives as a result of their actions. If caught by the Nazis, those who aided and abetted Jews faced criminalisation and even possibly execution. The heroic rescue of the Danish Jews from impending deportation to concentration camp is but one reminder of the historical continuity, praiseworthiness, and unfortunate necessity of ‘humanitarian smuggling’.

  1.     The drafters of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) considered including a safeguard against penalisation for individuals assisting refugees to cross borders irregularly on humanitarian grounds.

Under certain circumstances, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention provides that presumptive refugees may cross borders irregularly and nevertheless be exempt from punishment. The drafters recognised that given the unique and vulnerable predicament of refugees, a refugee may have no choice but to cross borders irregularly and should not be penalised for doing so.

In light of the expansive scope of the Facilitation Directive and the threatened criminalisation of humanitarians like Aldeen, it may come as a surprise that some of the drafters – in particular the Swiss government – recognised that safeguards should exist not only for refugees, but also their rescuers. According to the French representative, organisations assisting refugees to reach safety were engaging in ‘an obvious humanitarian duty’. The French government was nevertheless opposed to modifying the language of Article 31, fearing it would encourage refugee organisations to become ‘organisations for the illegal crossing of frontiers’. Similarly, the United States representative acknowledged that the failure to include a safeguard for those proving humanitarian assistance to refugees irregularly crossing borders might be ‘a possible oversight in the drafting of the article’. Yet, the United States government did not support including protections for those providing assistance.

There is, of course, no safeguard for ‘humanitarian smugglers’ in the Refugee Convention. Yet, there was a recognition that governments should not – and a false assumption that they would not – criminalise those assisting refugees for humanitarian reasons.

  1.     The November 2015 landmark Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Appulonappa, may set a legal precedent for a more narrowly drafted smuggling offence in the Facilitation Directive to decriminalise ‘humanitarian smugglers’.

The November 2015 Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case, R v. Appulonappa, sets a legal precedent for a narrower smuggling prohibition. The SCC ruled that its law criminalising smuggling, S. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, was overbroad and should be ‘read down…as not applying to persons providing humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers or to asylum-seekers who provide each other mutual aid (including aid to family members)’. S. 117 is not dissimilar to Article 1.1 of the Facilitation Directive in that it theoretically criminalises anyone who facilitates irregular entry, regardless of motive or the means by which the act is carried out.

The SCC ruled that S. 117 exceeded its legislative intent of criminalising organised crime: ‘[a] broad punitive goal that would prosecute persons with no connection to and no furtherance of organised crime is not consistent with Parliament’s purpose’. Possible amendments to S. 117 may serve as a model for a more narrowly drafted prohibition that more accurately delineates between blameless and blameworthy acts of smuggling.

Conclusion

These five observations offer entry points into the moral complexities of human smuggling and the legal imperative of decriminalising humanitarian acts of the facilitation of irregular entry. Ultimately, if the EC intends to provide recommendations to amend the Facilitation Directive that reflect the need to avoid criminalising humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants, it will first need to more narrowly and clearly define acts of the facilitation of irregular entry worthy of criminalisation. The EC’s challenge lies with the fact that the primary purpose of the Facilitation Directive is to deter irregular migration and a narrower directive would ultimately undermine this objective.

In the current crisis, human smugglers – and all individuals deemed as such – have become Europe’s scapegoat. Targeting human smugglers worthy of criminalisation and those ‘humanitarian smugglers’ worthy of praise is Europe’s Band-Aid solution to a problem that can only be solved through safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe.