Last month, EJIL: Talk! published a piece by Fink and Gombeer on the legality of Italy and Malta’s recent failure to provide a safe haven to a rescue vessel Aquarius. Essentially, the authors concluded that the refusal by these states to open their harbours is ‘regrettable, at the very least, but not necessarily unlawful.’ On their view, for the reasons elaborated in their analysis, neither the law of the sea nor human rights law have been ‘evidently’ breached. It follows that these two branches of law, in the context of ‘Aquarius-like incidents’, provide rather no avail to asylum seekers; in other words: law has its own limits.
The fate of Aquarius and her passengers is yet another example of an endless list of scenarios where people from predominantly war-torn, repressed or impoverished territories often attempt to irregularly cross international borders; a large number of them seeking help, safety and a better life. This and similar events illustrate not only that the handling of the arrival of asylum seekers, especially in Europe, has fostered multiple crises, but also that irregular migration will not cease to occur. Hence, the need for a long-term, responsible and visionary solution is evident.
Fink and Gombeer reflect de lege lata, and their diagnosis is valid and all the more relevant nowadays, de lege ferenda, as the governance and management of migration is largely being reformed, on multiple levels, precisely to address contemporary challenges and expectations. Among others, the European Union (EU) attempts to reform its migration and asylum policy, predominantly the so-called Dublin system, and the United Nations (UN) is expected to adopt its Global Compact on Migration by late 2018.
Having read Fink and Gombeer’s analysis, we cannot help but reflect on their main conclusion in light of these reforms. These authors basically identify a ‘gap’: the law has its own limits. We, in turn, reflect further on filling the said ‘gap’. We ask what can be done to overcome the limitations of law in order to ensure more holistic protection of asylum seekers?