“Publics and policymakers in Europe and the United States have been taxed in recent months by attempted entries at their southern borders of significant numbers of unauthorized migrants. Many of these migrants have possible humanitarian protection claims—whether unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border or would-be asylum seekers journeying across the Mediterranean in rickety, overloaded boats.
In the United States, more than 68,500 unaccompanied children, the majority from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, arrived in fiscal year (FY) 2014, fleeing violence and endemic poverty, and seeking a better life in the United States. The sharp spike in child arrivals, some as young as 4 years old, overwhelmed the capacity of the U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Refugee Resettlement responsible for their care in the United States, resulting in the opening of emergency shelters on military outposts and scenes of children being bused or flown across the country.
In Europe, as of the end of September, more than 165,000 people had arrived by sea, nearly triple the total of 60,000 recorded in 2013. Italy has received more than 140,000 of the arrivals, most rescued at sea through the Mare Nostrum naval operation. More than 3,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year, a grim addition to the tally of more than 22,000 who have lost their lives since 2000 trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The mixed flow of asylum seekers and irregular migrants to Europe and the United States, in combination with rising numbers of migrants, has complicated the ability of governments to determine who has a legitimate claim to protection based on humanitarian principles. Longstanding public concern about illegal immigration in the United States, and about cultural change and costs brought by immigrants in the European Union, have complicated and shaped policy responses in national capitals as well as at the EU level.
This article explores policy concepts considered in Europe and the United States to push outward the border with respect to humanitarian claims, focusing on the processing of refugee applications abroad via in-country or offshore programs. The Obama administration in September announced it would provide in-country processing of certain refugee claims at U.S. embassies in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The European Union is discussing establishing offshore processing centers, most likely in North African transit countries where hundreds of thousands of migrants are waiting to complete journeys to Europe. While externalizing refugee processing may alleviate some pressure on border-control agencies and lessen the chances that some migrants undertake dangerous, and potentially deadly, journeys, critics challenge such policies’ consistency with other humanitarian principles and international law. They also question the feasibility of such programs at practical levels, and whether the policies would be effective in reducing unwanted entries.” (…)