So-called refugee "hotspots"—touted by European leaders as a key strategy to deal with the ever-growing influx of people seeking to escape war and poverty in their home countries—are being described as "prison-like," raising fresh concerns about the humanitarian dimension of the crisis.
At last month's emergency summit in Brussels, European heads of state agreed to funnel at least €1.1 billion to help refugees and establish processing centers—"hotspots"—in Greece and Italy, where the largest numbers of asylum-seekers are arriving. From the start, the proposal raised "the disturbing specter of internment camps dotted around Greece and Italy," as the Associated Press wrote last week.
While details about the hotspots remain murky, what is clear is that the facilities will be used to register and fingerprint refugees before they are either assigned to one of the 25 European Union countries that have agreed to host them, or deported.
Describing the Pozzallo facility in Sicily, EurActiv writes:
It will be one of Italy's brand new hotspots for identifying newly-arrived migrants—but as the Pozzallo reception centre in Sicily prepares its fingerprinting kits, the EU-led plan for these facilities is still plagued with unresolved issues.
For now, the vast hangar overlooking the sea in southern Italy hosts the majority of migrants landing here each week, giving them time to wash and rest, before they are sent on to more permanent centres to file asylum requests.
[...] When Pozzallo becomes an official hotspot at the end of November, new arrivals will instead be obliged to provide their fingerprints as part of an asylum request, or be taken to a detention centre to await expulsion from Italy.
The hotspots will be closed-door centres, sharply reducing the chance that people can flee and head north off their own backs.
What's more, Reuters reported this week, Italy will allow a "proportionate" use of force to obtain fingerprints, which it has not done regularly in the past, "to the extent that it is compatible with Italian law."
If a migrant agrees to be fingerprinted and wants to seek asylum, he or she will be moved from the hotspot to an immigration centre whose tenants can come and go as they like while their applications are processed.
If instead a migrant refused to be fingerprinted or does not plan to ask for asylum, he or she will be sent to "Centres for Identification and Expulsion" (CIE), to be—if possible—deported. In the CIE, migrants can be held under lock and key for up to three months.
Meanwhile, the European border agency Frontex launched a call on Friday for 775 additional guards to be deployed at the external borders of the European Union—the largest number of border guards Frontex has ever requested in the history of the agency.
But a more comprehensive approach is needed, wrote analyst Nina Perkowski on Friday—one that emphasizes humanity over harsh tactics.
"'More Frontex' cannot be the answer to this crisis," she argued. "Rather than investing millions more in fences, patrols, and an EU Border Guard, we need the courage to accept that the policies of exclusion have failed."
"After more than two decades of attempting to 'seal' EU borders, of increasing Frontex’s funding and powers, building new fences, and making it ever more difficult for the poor, marginalised, and persecuted to reach EU territory, it is time to realise that this is not working," Perkowski concluded. "Rather than 'more Frontex,' we need policies and practices that recognize the humanity of those seeking safety and livelihood for themselves and their families and allow them to do so also here in Europe, rather than keeping them 'away' from 'us' at all costs."