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EU migration pact under fire

22 December 20230 comments

The European Union has finally agreed on a new migration pact but refugee advocates say it will set back European asylum law for decades.

The new laws, known as the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, were first unveiled in September 2020 in an attempt to turn the page on decades of ad-hoc crisis management, which saw governments take unilateral and uncoordinated measures to cope with a steep rise in asylum seekers.

These go-it-alone policies severely undermined the EU’s collective decision-making and left Brussels looking like an inconsequential bystander in what is arguably the most politically explosive issue on the agenda.

At its core, the New Pact is meant to establish predictable, clear-cut norms that bind all member states, regardless of their geographic location and economic weight. The ultimate goal is to find a balance between the responsibility of frontline nations, like Italy, Greece and Spain, which receive the bulk of asylum seekers, and the principle of solidarity that other countries should uphold.

But the NGO Amnesty International says the reforms will set European asylum law back for decades to come and lead to greater human suffering, said Amnesty International.

“Today’s political agreement on a set of legislative proposals, will reform EU migration and asylum policy through a set of regulations governing how states respond to people arriving in Europe. The deal reached today by the European Commission, Council of the EU, and European Parliament will diminish the rights of people on the move,” Amnesty said in a statement.

“This agreement will set back European asylum law for decades to come. Its likely outcome is a surge in suffering on every step of a person’s journey to seek asylum in the EU. From the way they are treated by countries outside the EU, their access to asylum and legal support at Europe’s border, to their reception within the EU, this agreement is designed to make it harder for people to access safety,” said Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

“The Pact will almost certainly cause more people to be put into de facto detention at EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations. There will be reduced safeguards for people seeking asylum in the EU, with more people channelled through substandard border asylum procedures, rather than receiving a fair and full assessment of their asylum claims.”

“The Migration Pact also falls short of concretely supporting states where people first arrive in Europe including Italy, Spain or Greece. Instead of prioritising solidarity through relocations and strengthening protection systems, states will be able to simply pay to strengthen external borders, or fund countries outside the EU to prevent people from reaching Europe.”

The agreement allows countries to opt out of a broad range of EU asylum rules in times of increased arrivals and in case of so-called ‘instrumentalisation’ of migrants or ‘force majeure’.

Amnesty says the exemptions risk, in practice, breaches of international obligations under refugee and international human rights law.

“These undermine a common, humane response to people in need of protection, place people at risk of severe human rights violations, and risk normalising disproportionate emergency measures at European borders, setting a dangerous precedent for the right to asylum globally,” the agency said.

“At the same time, this agreement reinforces the EU’s dependence on states beyond its borders to manage migration, building on recent deals with Albania, Libya, Tunisia, and Türkiye.

“Rather than investing in dignified reception within the EU and expanding safe and regular pathways to allow people to reach protection in Europe without relying on dangerous journeys, this amounts to a further step towards externalising border control and evading Europe’s refugee protection responsibilities.

“Amnesty International has long called on EU institutions and member states to put human rights at the centre of negotiations on EU asylum reforms. However, after years of complex negotiations, the EU now risks sleepwalking into a system in even greater need of reform than the current one.”

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is a legislative project with an all-encompassing approach that intends to piece together all the aspects of migration management, from the very moment migrants reach the bloc’s territory until the resolution of their requests for international protection. 

Crucially, it does not alter the so-called “Dublin principle,” which says the responsibility for an asylum application lies first and foremost with the first country of arrival.

The five laws contained in the New Pact are:

The Screening Regulation, which envisions a pre-entry procedure to swiftly examine an asylum seeker’s profile and collect basic information such as nationality, age, fingerprints and facial image. Health and security checks will also be carried out.

The amended Eurodac Regulation, which updates the Eurodac, the large-scale database that will store the biometric evidence collected during the screening process. The database will shift from counting applications to counting applicants to prevent multiple claims under the same name.

The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR), which sets two possible steps for migrants: the traditional asylum procedure, which usually takes several months to complete, and a fast-tracked border procedure, meant to last a maximum of 12 weeks. The border procedure will apply to migrants who pose a risk to national security and those who come from countries with low recognition rates, such as Morocco, Pakistan and India. These migrants will not be allowed to enter the national territory and instead be kept at facilities on the border, creating a “legal fiction of non-entry.”

The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR), which establishes a system of “mandatory solidarity” that will offer countries three options to manage migration flows: relocate a certain number of asylum seekers, pay a contribution for each claimant they refuse to relocate, and finance operational support. Brussels insists the system will not force any member state to accept refugees as long as they contribute through any of the other two options.

The Crisis Regulation, which foresees exceptional rules that will apply when the bloc’s asylum system is threatened by a sudden and massive arrival of refugees, as was the case during the 2015-2016 migration crisis, or by a situation of force majeure, like the COVID-19 pandemic. In these circumstances, national authorities will be allowed to apply tougher measures, including longer detention periods.