The European Commission unveiled its new Pact on Migration and Asylum last Wednesday. Margaritis Schinas, the vice president of the commission, announced the new proposals and asserted that they would constitute a “fresh start” for EU asylum policy. However, according to Amnesty International, the reality is that this new pact instead signifies a “false start” in terms of Europe’s approach to asylum and migration.
Concern has been echoed by various humanitarian organizations and policy experts. They doubt that the new pact will improve the situation for asylum seekers who have been stuck in dire conditions across Europe. In response to the announcement, Eve Geddie, EU Advocacy Director for Amnesty International stated that the new pact is “designed to heighten walls and strengthen fences.” She added that it would “do nothing to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people stuck in camps on the Greek islands, or in detention centres in Libya.”
European member states have repeatedly failed to implement a common approach to migration and asylum in recent years. However, the predominant route states have taken has been to adopt highly restrictive policies with the aim of making it extremely difficult for asylum seekers to reach Europe’s shores. These approaches have been widely criticized for being inconsistent with obligations to refugees and asylum seekers under international law and for giving rise to widespread human rights abuses on Europe’s borders.
The destruction of the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos has brought to light the failure of the EU’s approach to asylum. The camp had the capacity to accommodate 3,000 people yet was hugely overcrowded – instead sheltering approximately 13,000 refugees. A fire started in the camp on September 8th, resulting in it being destroyed, leaving its former inhabitants in an extremely precarious position.
In the aftermath of the Moria fire, UNICEF stated that the event illustrated “the urgent need for a child-sensitive, humane EU Pact on Migration that respects children’s rights to adequate protection and services across Europe.” Similarly, Commissioner Ylva Johansson, who played a key role in the development of the new pact, repeatedly promised that there would be “no more Morias” under it. Yet, the unveiling of the pact has shown inconsistency between the rhetoric coming from the Commission and the actual policies it has chosen to implement. The new proposal entails numerous measures, including mandatory screening for displaced people entering the EU, with the aim of speeding up the asylum process.
This proposal has given rise to concern regarding how it may act to further compound the suffering of asylum seekers across Europe. Raphael Shilhav, a policy advisor for Oxfam EU, highlighted that “the proposal for a fast track screening and asylum process at the border mirrors the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement -signed in March 2016 to curb migration across the Aegean- that led to the dismal conditions in Moria.”
Further concern was expressed by Olivia Sundberg Diaz, a migration policy analyst at the European Policy Centre. She told The New Humanitarian that in the past “accelerated procedures have led to higher rejection rates.” This poses a significant risk that displaced people may be wrongly denied asylum and returned to their countries of origin where their safety may be seriously threatened.
The new pact has brought to light that European decision-makers are unwilling to truly make a “fresh start” in regard to asylum. It remains centred around approaches based on deterrence which we have seen give rise to extraordinary human suffering in the past years. This pact provided the opportunity for the EU to step up and move away from its hostile approach to migration and asylum, yet it has failed to do so. The need for serious change, in the form of the establishment of safe and legal routes to asylum, therefore cannot be overstated.
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