Hardening on returns of irregular migrants, increased controls at external borders, acceleration of procedures: Brussels unveiled on Wednesday an asylum reform accused of giving way to the countries most hostile to the reception of refugees.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen defended a ‘fair and reasonable’ balance between ‘responsibility and solidarity’ between the 27. ‘We must find lasting solutions on migration’, she pleaded, stressing that the ‘Moria camp fire was’ a brutal reminder’.
Five years after the 2015 crisis, this new ‘European Pact on Migration and Asylum’ provides that EU countries that do not want to take asylum seekers in the event of an influx will have to participate in the return asylum seekers from the European country where they arrived to their country of origin.
This is a way of getting around the persistent refusal of several countries, in particular those of the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia) to welcome migrants.
Brussels is learning the lessons of the failure of the relocation quotas decided after 2015: the principle of a binding distribution of migrants is therefore abandoned. ‘It doesn’t work’, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz reiterated on Tuesday.
Long-awaited and repeatedly postponed, this pact provides for ‘rigorous controls’ at the external borders, so as to rule out more quickly migrants deemed unlikely to obtain international protection, said Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas. For them, the asylum application will be processed at the border within 12 weeks.
End of Dublin?
Above all, the pact revises the principle of giving the first country of entry of a migrant into the EU the responsibility of processing his asylum application.
This ‘Dublin regulation’, the current pillar of the European asylum system, has continued to fuel tensions between the 27, because of the burden it places on countries geographically on the front line such as Greece and the United Kingdom. Italy.
According to the Commission proposal, the country responsible for the application could be the one where a migrant has family ties, where he has worked or studied, or the country which issued a visa. Otherwise, the countries of first arrival will remain responsible for the request.
If a State is subject to migratory ‘pressure’ and considers that it cannot take charge of migrants, it may request the activation of a ‘compulsory solidarity mechanism’.
All states will be involved, depending on their economic weight and their population, explains the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson. But they have the choice between welcoming asylum seekers, ‘sponsoring’ the return of a migrant to his country or helping to build reception centers.
In the event of a ‘crisis’ similar to that of 2015, when more than a million refugees took Europe by surprise, a state will have to take charge of the relocation of refugees or the return of rejected migrants. And if it fails to return migrants to their countries of origin within eight months, it must welcome them.
Alternatives deemed unfeasible for small countries, which do not have the means, argued a European source.
In order to increase and make migrant returns ‘more efficient’, the Commission will appoint a coordinator and ‘intensify negotiations’ with the states of origin or transit, said Ms Johansson. The EU currently has 24 readmission agreements with third countries, but ‘not all of them work’, she observes. Only a third of failed migrants actually leave the EU.
The situation is very different from 2015, with the number of irregular arrivals in the EU falling in 2019 to 140,000. And if in 2015, 90% of migrants were granted refugee status, today two thirds are not entitled to international protection.
While the boat Alan Kurdi of the NGO Sea-Eye, with 133 migrants on board, was heading towards Marseille on Wednesday, a solidarity mechanism is also planned concerning rescues at sea by the new pact, which proposes to put in place the sheltered from prosecution NGOs rescuing migrants at sea.
Critics were quick: the Commission ‘pieces together a whole without a real boss, without structure, without framework’, told AFP the specialist in migration issues Yves Pascouau.
‘It’s a compromise between cowardice and xenophobia’, criticizes Belgian researcher François Gemenne, denouncing ‘the same logic of fortress Europe‘, while the NGO Oxfam accuses the Commission of ‘bowing to governments anti-immigration ‘.
‘This new pact institutionalizes shame. It will not prevent new tragedies or the maintenance of unworthy camps (…) The Commission went to bed in front of Orban and others’, abounds the MEP Damien Carême (Greens).
MEP Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé (EPP, right), for her part, is worried about the absence of ‘a system to study asylum requests before arriving in the EU’. As for express border procedures, they alarm the NGO Caritas Europa, which fears ‘a dilution of legal guarantees (for migrants) and increased detentions’.