Asylum Seekers Being Left to Suffer Under EU Policies


This blog post is the second  in a series of posts that come from students of our 3rd year undergraduate “Politics and Policy Making in the EU” course. As part of the course, students were asked to write about an issue pertaining to EU politics. The best blog posts have been selected to provide an opportunity to exceptional young scholars at UCD to contribute to the debate on the future of the EU, and to promote the insightful scholarship being undertaken at UCD to a wider public audience. 

While Frontex admits that the main focus of operation Triton is border control and claims that they view saving lives as a priority (Frontex News 2014), many question about the effectiveness of this operation. Within the past few months, there have been many debates on the EU’s policies about asylum seekers. Not only do they question the effectiveness of operation Triton, but they also question the Dublin III Regulation, proposing different ways to distribute asylum seekers, and highlight the fact that EU policies have spent more on border security than stopping the flow of migrants.

The main objective of the Dublin Regulation is preventing asylum seekers from moving from one country to another in limbo until they are granted access into a country. This lessens the burden on some EU members because the migrants can only apply to the country in which they first arrived, however, border nation states accumulate the refugees and have to deal with a much larger amount of influx. Due to the high population of asylum seekers within certain countries, those countries have a harder time providing support and protection for the migrants, exacerbating poor conditions for asylum seekers (Overdorf 2014).

Statistics show that 70% of “asylum seekers registered across the EU… were taken in by Germany, Italy, Britain, Sweden and France” (Kiesal 2014). Furthermore, Germany alone is estimated to receive 200,000 new asylum applications this year alone, which is double that of 2013 (Kiesel 2014). This large influx of people is so hard to manage for the border countries because of the Dublin Regulation that some have simply been allowing asylum seekers to move on into other countries to submit applications. Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizere proposed that asylum seekers be distributed throughout the countries, proportionate to their population and wealth (Overdorf 2014), similar to the way that Germany distributes them throughout the country. However, countries that do not currently have problems with asylum seekers will be hesitate to agree, while the border states would welcome this improvement on the EU’s asylum seekers policy.

On November 1st Italy officially turned over its Mare Nostrum naval search and rescue operation to the EU’s operation Triton. Mare Nostrum has rescued over 150,000 people over the past year or 400 migrants per day. This operation was launched following the disaster off the coast of Lampedusa in October 2013 where 360 migrants drowned (Bajekal 2014). However, this search and rescue operation was beginning to be too much for Italy to handle alone, especially financially. But this kind of operation was viewed as important to the EU and therefore operation Triton was established to take over for Italy. Unfortunately, this new operation is viewed to be underequipped comparatively (Overdorf 2014) and under funded, spending 3 million Euro per month compared to Mare Nostrum’s monthly budget of 9 million Euro (Amnesty 2014), practically assuring the unnecessary deaths of many migrants.

In addition to the decrease in sea-surveillance, the risks for refugees are increasing as human traffickers are beginning to dump asylum seekers near the coast, not necessarily on shore, creating a deadly mix for those who are unable to swim (Schlamp 2014). Operation Triton focuses on border control, building fences, installing surveillance and conducting patrols (Overdorf 2014), however, there seems to be a lack of technical support for the operation. Fortex has appealed to the EU Member States for the deployment of more technical equipment, considering they currently only has “two ocean patrol vessels, two coastal patrol vessels, two coastal patrol boats, two aircraft and one helicopter” (Frontex News 2014). These 9 pieces of equipment are not enough to properly survey the vast operational area of 2.5 million square feet to detect disasters before they happen or become deadly.

Many do not support operation Triton for various reasons. Human rights groups like Amnesty International and refugee organizations believe that too many will perish because operation Triton is ill equip (Amnesty 2014), while some EU member states refuse to participate because this type of operation seems to encourage migrants to come.

Colm O’Gorman, the executive director of Amnesty International, states that this operation is “a clear testimony to EU member states’ continuing preoccupation with protecting borders over people.” Amnesty International believe that the EU is spending way too much money on border control, but should be looking into safe and legal means for refugees to access European soil in order to file a asylum claim (Bajekal 2014). Furthermore, they think that EU member states need to step up and ensure a joint search and rescue operation (Amnesty 2014).

On the other said of operation Triton’s opposition lies EU members who refuse to support the operation. The U.K.’s foreign office minister, Lady Anelay, says that this type of operation “create[s] an unintended ‘pull factor,’ encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths” (Bajekal 2014). The UK is said to think that the focus should not be on rescue operations but should be on presentation measures in the countries of origin and transit, thereby stopping refugees from leaving, and fighting to stop the smugglers that put so many peoples’ lives at risk (Travis, 2014). While none of the other EU member states have issued such an oppositional statement, many have been unconcerned with providing much help to operation Triton or increasing the budget to provide more surveillance.

In the midst of a refugee crisis, the people will not stop fleeing because “we stop throwing them life-rings” (Travis, 2014). Operation Triton simply illustrates how ill equipped some EU policies can be. From the Dublin Regulation to the blinded view of some EU member states, it is clear to see that the EU is not living up to their pledge of being and “area of freedom, security and justice” (Schlamp 2014).

Heather Kriletich is a 4th year student at UC Santa Barbara majoring in Sociology and Political Science with an emphasis on international relations. She studied abroad at UCD in Fall 2014 with the intention to expand her knowledge of the international system through the viewpoint of a foreign country. 


Amnesty. “Triton Is No Substitute for Life-saving Mare Nostrum.” Amnesty International. October 31, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.

Bajekal, Naina. “Italy to End Naval Operation That Rescued Thousands of Migrants.” Time, October 24, 2014.

Frontex. “More Technical Support Needed for Operation Triton.” Frontex | European Union Agency. 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.

Kiesel, Heiner. “Overview of German and European Asylum Policy | Germany | DW.DE | 06.11.2014.” DW.DE. November 6, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.

Overdorf, Jason. “Refugee Abuse Scandal in Germany Is Highlighting failing EU Policies.” GlobalPost. October 21, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2014.

Schlamp, Hans-Jurgen. “Europe’s Failure: Bad Policies Caused the Lampedusa Tragedy – SPIEGEL ONLINE.” Spiegel Online. October 4, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.

Travis, Alan. “UK Axes Support for Mediterranean Migrant Rescue Operation.” The Guardian, October 27, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2014.

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