Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from Global Information Network
(TriceEdneyWire.com) — Not long after a three-year-old Syrian refugee child was found on a Turkish beach, the president of the European Commission declared belatedly: “We can build walls; we can build fences. But if it were you, your child… there is no price you would not pay, there is no wall you would not climb.”
Europe has now agreed to settle thousands of migrants fleeing war and terrorist attacks, but few believe the European Union has changed its long-term strategy to keep refugees out. In fact, plans are reportedly underway to process refugees offshore in a temporary migration center in the center-west African nation of Niger.
If the center, built to hold Africans seeking humanitarian visas in Europe, succeeds, more centers will be built in the Middle East and the Maghreb.
Around 90 percent of all West African migrants, roughly 100,000 people each year, pass through Niger on their way to Europe.
The center will be located in the Nigerien city of Agadez and run by the International Organization for Migration. Refugees would register and be profiled. Those who are refused EU entry will be helped to return to their country of origin if so desired.
In a recent Foreign Policy magazine article, the idea of using Agadez as a safe haven seemed questionable at best. Assistant professor of African Studies at the University of Florida, Sebastian Elischer, wrote: “Known as a hub for human and drug traffickers, weapons dealers, Tuareg rebels, Boko Haram fighters, among others, it hardly seems a suitable refuge for anyone. In fact, the Nigerien government has banned foreign citizens from entering all of northern Niger unless they are accompanied by a Nigerien military escort. Western embassies regularly advise their own citizens not to travel to Agadez and its surrounding areas. The EU has yet to explain why it thinks that an area like this is an appropriate place for offshore refugees to seek out.”
Under international law, a country cannot return migrants within their borders to a place where they might face persecution, torture, death, or irreparable harm. Some have asked whether the center in Niger can even meet that standard.
Finally, offshore processing has been a humanitarian disaster for the U.S. and Australia, given the examples of Guantánamo Bay and Papua, New Guinea. Human rights organizations have condemned both nations for the harsh and humiliating conditions prevalent in their centers. Both facilities experienced riots and hunger strikes over abusive treatment after detainees were refused adequate legal and medical assistance. Australian and American facilities are run by private companies, which focus on making profits and operate without accountability.
“Perhaps that is why the EU chose a Nigerien site, where any emerging crises will remain well out of sight and thus, out of mind,” Elischer suggested. “An unfolding humanitarian crisis in Niger’s far-flung north will not provoke the same indignation as dead bodies on the shores of Italy and Greece. Donor-dependent Niamey will not ask too many critical questions or worry too much about whether the center meets international legal standards.”
African countries with the highest number of refugees include Gambia, Senegal, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria and Mali.