Safe according to whose interests?
- Posted by Maryam Namazie
- On December 1, 2002
- 0 Comments
Published in Hambastegi English
December 1, 2002
On 14-15 October the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg took measures to ensure that thousands of asylum seekers fleeing to EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe could be sent straight back without their claim for asylum being considered. The ten countries due to join the EU in January 2004 will be considered ‘safe’ countries of origin and applications for asylum from nationals of those countries will be considered ‘manifestly unfounded’. This intergovernmental declaration will become effective upon gaining the needed number of signatures irrespective of national laws.
Application of this concept to certain countries basically means that since the specific countries are deemed safe, people fleeing them are either automatically precluded from obtaining asylum/refugee status or, placed into an expedited procedure which begins with the assumption that their claims are unfounded.
Whilst Western governments have for years worked towards establishing this concept as a basic international norm in the refugee regime, this EU declaration has brought us one step closer to seeing this concept become a dark reality for thousands fleeing persecution.
Let’s be clear: this concept is different from many of the anti-refugee policies we have seen. It is different from previous challenges we have faced from states considering countries of origin effectively ‘safe’ to deport so-called ‘failed’ asylum seekers. We have stood up against deportations in all instances. For example, in Holland in 1997, the Dutch government wanted to deport over one thousand Iranian asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected by effectively deeming Iran safe for that group of asylum seekers. This policy was defeated by the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and others, especially when it came to light that even those rejected and deported were not in fact safe. But the safe country of origin concept goes far beyond what the Dutch government tried to do in 1997 and governments have been doing year in and year out. If we continue to use the Dutch example, this concept would mean that not only would so-called ‘failed’ asylum seekers to be sent back but claims by every Iranian asylum seeker would be deemed unfounded; they wouldn’t even have the right to apply for asylum! This is what the EU declaration and this concept really means.
This concept is extremely dangerous because it completely changes the definition of refugee, which will no longer be based on people’s fear of persecution but on where they fled from. It precludes a priori an entire group of asylum seekers from refugee status.
In establishing this concept, the EU states are targeting those countries that will be joining the EU because it is their safest bet for now but what will happen to thousands who are fleeing from those specific countries already? What will happen to the Roma who have fled and are fleeing racism, discrimination, death and rights violations? This declaration denies their basic right to seek and enjoy asylum. It denies entire groups of people the right to safety. For this reason alone, this declaration must be unequivocally condemned. But you can be sure that there will be more to come. Its implementation via this declaration will means that tomorrow Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan will be deemed safe and people fleeing from these countries will not be able to even apply for asylum!
One can confidently guarantee that this list will expand to include all those countries from which large numbers are fleeing (if it isn’t contrary to the foreign policy of the time) especially since the aim of this concept is to stop the flow of asylum seekers from specific countries. Given that asylum seekers fleeing the Middle East and political Islam are one of the largest refugee flows, they will soon be next.
This declaration while geographically limited now will impact on all asylum seekers and has to be resisted. Undoubtedly, soon, by relying on the racist theory of cultural relativism, and for their own political and economic gains, these states will deem countries like Iran ‘safe’. Aren’t they already calling the vile Islamic Republic of Iran, which still stones people to death and hangs them in public by cranes, an Islamic democracy?
The main question is this: safe from whose perspective and interests? Definitely not from the asylum seeker’s perspective and interests, whether so-called failed or newly arriving! From their perspective, and from ours, things aren’t safe otherwise they wouldn’t literally be dying to get in. If it were safe, thousands upon thousands wouldn’t flee from the very same countries they have been fleeing from for decades.
We must resist this safe country of origin concept and plan. The right to asylum is a right for everyone who is fleeing persecution, execution, torture and rights violations and discrimination. We must unequivocally defend this right.