"Security and immigration management are concerns for any country, but policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up becoming collateral damage," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in December 2014.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the EU saw a 25 percent increase of asylum applications in 2014, generally coming from Syria, as well as the rest of the Middle East and Africa, both regions facing continuous socio-political instability.
Last month, more than 300 Libyan migrants died while trying to reach Italy through the Mediterranean Sea aboard so-called "death-boats." This phenomenon is not new. But the significant human cost associated with it has become increasingly alarming and reveals the flaws of the EU Asylum Policy. The European community's response to migrations must be redefined to achieve a comprehensive "common" European system that would effectively deal with this issue and guarantee the migrants' safety.
It's a problem of responsibility. For more than a decade, EU Member States and EU institutions have combined their efforts to draft a EU Asylum Policy that would tackle the migration issue, and allocate the responsibility to process asylum cases on the principle of responsibility-shifting, rather than responsibility-sharing. According to the Dublin Regulation, asylum claims must be processed by the first EU Member State asylum-seekers come to.
This has imposed a serious burden on states like Italy, Malta and Greece which are at the forefront of migrations from North Africa and the Middle East, and often unable to cope with the ever increasing number of refugees. As a result, many cases of human rights violations have been reported in these countries, including inhuman treatment and torture of migrants. The most notable was the violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention principle of "non-refoulement," which forbids a state from deporting an asylum-seeker back to their original country where they face life-threatening persecution. In 2012, Italy violated this principle when it intercepted Libyan migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and sent them back to Libya, therefore failing to provide them with the necessary protection.
Furthermore, the existence of the borderless Schengen area has in some cases complicated the process of dealing with asylum claims as refugees can move across frontiers once inside the area. Most asylum-seekers regard southern European countries as gateways to the more stable northern economies like Germany, Sweden or Britain, where they see more opportunities for the future. According to recent Eurostat data, in December 2014, the majority of asylum applications were filed in Germany (20, 375), while a country in crisis like Greece only received 955 applications. Today, Germany continues to receive more refugees and asylum-seekers than any other European country.
Moreover, Frontex, the European Agency in charge of controlling external borders, has provided limited additional assistance to countries like Greece facing increasing migratory pressure, such as the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) to intercept migrants reaching the Greek shore from Turkey.
In a 2011 controversial case, Frontex was referred to as the "EU's dirty hands" by Human Rights Watch for having knowingly exposed migrants to inhumane treatment at the Greek-Turkish border. The Agency played a helping hand in facilitating the transfer of migrants to Greece's detention centers where they faced mistreatment.
Taking into account the country-specific views on immigration, nationalism, migration and refugee-related issues - which differ from state to state, Frontex has been an insufficient answer to the growing problem of refugees. If country-specific policies are doing more harm than good to asylum-seekers, the need for an all-encompassing approach becomes clearer than ever.
Today, migrants continue to see Europe as a safe haven amid the current growing crisis in the Middle East and North Africa.
It's time for the EU Member States to agree on a common supranational policy that will overcome national interests for the purpose of reducing the human cost of migrations while respecting Europe's commitment to the rights and freedoms of asylum-seekers.
Sending humanitarian help to countries where the problem originates is already a first step that the EU has taken. But the priority is finding a common agreement among the EU Member States to build a harmonized EU immigration and asylum policy that would provide migrants with protection, material assistance and resettlement.
Now is the time for EU Member States to realize that the migration crisis is a common European problem and that it should be dealt with accordingly, as one single body.
This op-ed was originally published on the Politheor.net website.