Pressure is mounting on European governments as asylum applications are expected to have increased by 50% in 2022. Close to one million migrants settled in Europe last year, according to figures released in February by the European Union Agency for Asylum. Ideas of offshoring asylum processing outside of the EU are repeatedly coming up in discussions in Brussels.
Long considered inflammatory and morally unacceptable, this idea is becoming mainstream. “It’s becoming the topic of the day,” said a source familiar with negotiations on migration issues. However, no discussions are underway at the technical level, according to several European diplomats. The issue is not expected to be discussed when EU interior ministers meet at the European Council on March 9th and 10th.
When Denmark legislated in 2021 to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, the UK followed suit in 2022 and is now considering denying asylum to anyone arriving on its shores illegally. Now, more and more European countries are calling for the adoption of this measure to deter migrants from seeking international protection on European territory.
Projects dating back to the 1970s
In November 2022, Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner officially asked his European colleagues to consider the Danish model. In February, Joachim Stamp, Germany’s new special representative for migration agreements, proposed opening centers for asylum seekers on migration routes, a solution he considers “more humane” than the Danish or UK Rwandan centers which are currently underway.
“Outsourcing projects date back to the 1970s,” recalled Pauline Endres de Oliveira, a legal scholar at the University of Giessen, Germany, who co-authored a study on outsourced asylum management for the Migration Policy Institute think tank. “With the evacuations from Viet Nam, destination states have been looking for ways to relieve the pressure on their asylum systems from spontaneous arrivals, and the dangers applicants face along the way.”
Since 2013, Australia has also taken action, transferring some 3,200 asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and the island of Nauru at an estimated cost of €5 billion, according to Forced Migration Review.
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A recurring issue
In Europe, “every time the number of asylum seekers increases significantly, this issue comes up,” said Endres de Oliveira. In 2003, Tony Blair proposed the idea to member states. In 2009, France proposed to create centers in Libya, where many migrants leave for Europe. In 2018, after the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, leaders asked the Commission “to examine without delay the concept of regional disembarkation platforms:” “Hot spots” established outside Europe. “Since then,” a European diplomat explained, “nothing has happened. While this type of project is attractive from a theoretical point of view, it is in fact very complicated to set up legally, and this has put off third-party countries. “
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