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A Brief Guide to EU Immigration Debate Jargon

Here's an overview of some of the key terms to help you wade into the discussion.

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This article originally appeared on VICE Germany

These days, it feels like everybody is anxious to have their opinions on immigration heard. Politicians, taxi drivers, that aunt of yours who always seems to have one too many – everybody seems to fancy themselves as an expert on the issue.

The subject's popularity isn't that surprising given the massive increase in people – or "swarms" as Cameron warmly describes them – crossing the Mediterranean lately. Last month, the amount of migrants detected at European borders was triple that of July 2014. At 107,500, it was the first time the number exceeded the 100,000 mark in a single month.


The whole debate surrounding asylum, refugees and immigration is highly complex and involves a lot of key players, baffling acronyms and regulations that can render it almost impossible for regular people to navigate. Like, what are people on about when they talk about Triton? What's a Eurosur? Why is Dublin making regulations governing anything?

Having already given you a myth busting guide to UK migration, we thought we'd try and explain some of the more common jargon that current affairs types like to throw about whilst discussing regular people attempting to escape war.

So, here it is.


Eurosur, according to their website, is "an information exchange system designed to improve the management of Europe's external borders". So, basically it's there to protect the West from all those people who you've been told are trying to steal your job. The Mediterranean can now be monitored by drones, offshore sensors and satellite search systems. Through massive exchanges of data and national coordination centres, the estimated 874 million euro project will be able to pinpoint the exact coordinates of boat migrants in distress. Shame that nobody has decided whose responsibility it is to help them, though.

Dublin II and Dublin III

The Dublin Regulation determines which EU member state is responsible for examining the applications of migrants seeking protection under the Geneva convention. According to the regulation, people are required to apply for asylum in whichever European country they first set foot in. The regulation, as it stands now, makes things a little difficult for southern, coastal countries like Greece, where most migrants enter Europe, who are already completely overwhelmed.

A ruling from the European Human Rights Court from the European Human Rights Court has declared that deportations to Greece violate human rights because of the ongoing situation there. Several Europe member states have since said that they won't be deporting people to Greece pending further notice.


The UNHCR and numerous NGOs, such as Pro Asyl and Amnesty International, heavily criticise the Dublin Regulation, claiming it only regulates responsibility without putting forward a unified policy on refugees as well as violating international refugee rights.

People gathering material to make shelters in Calais. Photo by Jake Lewis.

Complicit States

For more than 15 years, the EU has been making deals with so-called "complicit states" like Ukraine, Tunisia, Belarus and Libya. In doing so, Europe has implemented a sort of border that prevents refugees from ever even reaching EU borders.

For example, Libya's ex-dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, received several million euros and a ship of modern equipment from Italy. All Gaddafi had to do was close off Libya's border with Chad and take back their deportees. Another example of Europe exerting pressure is by curtailing foreign aid to countries that haven't managed to intercept refugees. Some of these countries authorities aren't exactly well-mannered when it comes to dealing with refugees – in Morocco, pregnant women and children are beaten; in Ukraine, they get imprisoned. All conduct sponsored by Brussels.


So-called pushback actions are illegal operations in which refugees that have already crossed into European territories are sent back by border agents. For example, towing refugee boats out of European waters. This is to circumvent refugees making it onto EU soil and applying for asylum.

In February 2014, 15 people died in an attempt to swim from Morocco to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. The Spanish Guardia police pumped tear gas into the sea, beat the swimmers with clubs and shot at them with rubber bullets. There's also video footage showing border agents attacking immigrants helplessly hanging from border fences.

Triton vs. Mare Nostrum

When we say Triton, we're not referring to the Little Mermaid's dad. No. We're talking about a specific EU operation. In November of last year, Triton replaced the sea rescue initiative, Mare Nostrum – a project responsible for the rescue of more than 130,000 refugees from the Mediterranean. Rome initiated the mission after the Lampedusa tragedy that left more than 360 people dead. But according to Italy's interior minister, Angelino Alfano, "Italy had done its duty." So, Mare Nostrum was discontinued. Triton, its successor, has a few elementary differences:

  • Both Triton's budget and technical resources are considerably more limited than those of Mare Nostrum's, which amounted to roughly 9 million euros. Triton has less than a third of that.
  • Triton is an operation run by Frontex, Europe's border protection agency. According to the head of Germany's Green Party, Simone Peter, Frontex lacks understanding of sea rescue missions and "their focus is border protection".
  • Triton's operational area is considerably smaller. Their ships only patrol a small distance from the Italian coastline.
  • Mare Nostrum's operational aim was first and foremost sea rescue. In contrast, Triton is set up to protect and surveil Europe's borders. Saving lives is not a priority for Triton.