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Europe must do more to help Arab spring's 'double refugees'
The Guardian
Friday, August 17, 2012

Many people who suffered persecution in north Africa after fleeing Arab uprisings are finding Europe equally inhospitable.

The story of a Somali refugee: 'Now that I'm in Sweden I feel free and very happy' Link to this video

Somalia is expected to form a post-transition government on 20 August. For people like Omar, the Somali refugee featured in Rain is Beautiful, a new government in Mogadishu is unlikely to mean much as most of the country will continue to be plagued by insecurity long after the government has assumed power.

Many of the estimated 5,000 people living in Tunisia's Choucha refugee camp and Egypt's Saloum camp are, like Omar, refugees two times over. Having fled persecution in their country of origin – be it Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia or Sudan, to name a few – they travelled to Libya to find a safe haven and means to support themselves and the families they left behind.

As the government of Muammar Gaddafi fell, many migrants became victims of xenophobic attacks, and again sought refuge in these makeshift camps. Despite new authorities in Libya, their problems have not ended; the Choucha camp remains insecure, and violence involving local residents, refugees, and security forces has occurred. In May 2011, a large part of the camp burned to the ground.

With no possibility of making a life in Libya, returning safely to their home country, or settling in Tunisia or Egypt, the refugees look to Europe for safe haven. But most European countries are not interested in taking them in. After risking their lives by boarding small boats to sail towards Europe, many end up in Malta, where they are held in detention; a Human Rights Watch report last month called on Malta to review its "arbitrary detention policy". Similarly, Greece last week rounded up more than 7,000 foreigners presumed to be illegal migrants.

These countries are among the most common entry points for refugees and economic migrants (many people are both), and justify their actions by pointing to the disproportionate burden they bear compared with countries in northern Europe that – because of their geography and the sophistication of their border control bureaucracies – are harder for asylum seekers and migrants to reach.

EU legislation known as the Dublin II regulation stipulates that asylum applications must be processed in the first country where an individual arrives. This provides a justification for other European countries to refuse to engage in burden sharing. There is little political will within the EU to revisit this regulation, despite evidence that it encourages unfair treatment of asylum seekers and other migrants in these entry-point countries.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has called on European countries to resettle 2,000 of the total caseload of 5,000 refugees in Tunisia and Egypt (the US has agreed to accept 3,000). Fewer than 900 places have been offered by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. The UK has not offered to accept any of the refugees, despite the active role it played in supporting regime change in Libya.

There is little public support for opening doors to those who have been further displaced as a result of the Arab spring. The dismal state of the EU economy has helped to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment, based on the widespread belief that social services will be unduly stretched and jobs taken from unemployed nationals. In addition, many feel that human rights obligations, which EU countries are legally required to uphold, are overgenerous.

"Double-refugees" and migrants-turned-refugees in Tunisia are among those who have suffered most from the Arab spring. What has emerged in Tunisia and Egypt is a protection vacuum, with the large numbers of refugees trapped in camps likely to remain there indefinitely.

Without options for safe resettlement, more people will defy the grim odds and try to enter Europe illegally by sea. Many will perish on the journey; at least 1,500 died this way last year. Those who succeed in reaching a safe shore may find themselves locked up for months or years before being accepted somewhere or deported. European governments and the EU can and should do more to help the inadvertent victims of the Arab spring, expanding resettlement for Somalis and other double refugees, and offering them the security that many have lacked for years.


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