The loss of over 700 lives in a single incident in the Mediterranean on 18 April 2015, following a six-day period in which over 10,000 migrants were rescued, has sparked renewed debates about whether extraterritorial processing – sometimes called ‘offshore processing’ – might save lives at sea.
Despite a plethora of European proposals over the past 20 years, none has ever been sufficiently fleshed out to receive adequate support to be implemented. Legal and practical concerns have proven insurmountable. There is also recognition that while regional or other external processing arrangements may provide a useful complement to other protection mechanisms, they are not a solution in and of themselves.
This paper examines European proposals for extraterritorial processing and the establishment of regional protection centres by considering:
- their policy rationale;
- their history;
- legal concerns;
- comparisons with Australia and the United States;
- the role of host States;
- models for regional processing; and
- complementary strategies that can provide a protection ‘toolkit’.
Cooperative regional approaches can help States to develop more coherent, systematic and predictable responses to refugee movements. But they must acknowledge the concerns and interests of all participating States. And timely solutions for refugees will be central to their success or failure.
The paper concludes by offering a flexible range of tools that can help States to provide protection in a safer, and more regular, manner. Unless States create measures to allow people to seek protection lawfully, dangerous journeys will continue.