Yesterday, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, argued that the EU’s response to the migrant deaths crisis ran the risk of admitting half a million terrorists on to EU soil. He based this claim on the threat of the ‘Islamic State’ (Daesh) terrorists to send such killers to the EU via means of smuggling routes, and demanded that David Cameron veto the EU plans.
Do these claims make sense? Not in the slightest. First of all, the EU policy, as I discussed last week, is essentially to reaffirm the status quo. The current limited maritime surveillance missions will be expanded, although it is not clear if they will amount to fully-fledged rescue missions. This probably means that more people will reach the EU, but this will only be for the reason that fewer of them will drown en route.
Once in the EU, they will be able to make claims for asylum – but that is no different to the current law. The EU’s plan does not involve any changes to EU asylum legislation; it simply calls on Member States to apply those laws. The EU did commit to some form of direct resettlement of refugees from third countries – but EU leaders could not even agree on the tiny number of 5,000 refugees to be settled next year.
Farage would prefer a policy of returning people to the countries they left. In fact, asylum-seekers can already be returned to their countries of origin or transit, if it is clear when examining their application that those countries are safe. But in accordance with the UN (Geneva) Refugee Convention – which UKIP purports to support – they cannot be returned to an unsafe country. Libya, for instance, is clearly unsafe: there are widespread whippings, beatings, electric shocks and hangings of migrants. In any event, asylum-seekers who prove to be terrorists must be denied refugee status or other forms of protection status, as the CJEU has confirmed.
Farage demands that David Cameron veto the EU’s plans, but that simply isn’t possible, because the UK has an opt-out from EU asylum and immigration law. We can choose not to participate, and indeed the UK has already chosen not to participate in any of the second phase EU asylum measures, except for those which transfer asylum-seekers from the UK to other Member States. We can choose not to participate in any future measures too – although as noted already, the EU is not even planning any new asylum laws in response to the deaths. Since the UK has an opt-out, it does not have a veto. But in fact, no Member State has a veto on EU asylum policy. Most EU immigration and asylum law has in fact been subject to qualified majority voting since 2005. (Laws on legal migration were subject to unanimous voting until 2009; but the EU’s plan does not address legal migration issues).
As regards border control operations in particular, the UK doesn’t participate fully in the EU’s border control agency, Frontex. In fact, according to the EU Court of Justice, legally we can’t participate in Frontex, since we don’t participate in the full Schengen system of abolishing internal border controls. Instead we have an informal arrangement, for instance supplying some hardware to assist with the expanded surveillance operations. But even that sort of informal arrangement is under challenge in a case pending before the CJEU.
In some ways, Farage’s own policy runs its own risks. He has argued that Christians in particular should be admitted as refugees into the EU. As I have pointed out, this again violates the Geneva Convention that UKIP purport to support, since that Convention requires non-discriminatory application on grounds of religion, and it would also be unfeasible to distinguish between Christians and Muslims during rescue at sea. But if Christians are being resettled directly from areas afflicted by Daesh, the UKIP policy would provide the perfect opportunity for ISIS fighters to pretend to be Christian as a way to ensure entry into the EU.
As an assessment of terrorist methodology, Farage’s claims are also suspect. The bulk of Daesh atrocities have not been carried out in the EU, but in Syria and Iraq, as well as by affiliated groups in Libya and Nigeria. Most of the people who have been linked to Daesh in Europe have been EU citizens who travelled to parts of the Middle East to participate in atrocities. Any migrants who were rescued from boats or who were resettled directly from conflict areas would presumably be disarmed of any weapons they were carrying en route. Of course, they might obtain weapons once they reached the EU; but since Farage is an outspoken critic of gun control, he is part of the problem, not of the solution, to that issue. As for the figure of half a million Daesh fighters coming to the EU, that's 20 or 30 times the CIA's estimate of the total number of all Daesh fighters.
Finally, Farage argues that the EU has cynically used the migrant deaths crisis to develop a comprehensive immigration and asylum policy. If only it had: in fact, the EU’s response is largely marginal and ineffectual. Indeed, Farage is throwing some huge stones inside this glass house. It is Farage who is trying to ‘weaponise’ the tragic deaths of hundreds of people, taking this opportunity to make an inaccurate and incoherent rant in the midst of an election campaign.