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New Pact on Migration and Asylum: Living Up to Our Values

BLOG - 29 September 2020

On the night of September 6, a fire ravaged the largest refugee camp in Europe. The Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, housed 12,700 people, four times its maximum capacity. The humanitarian tragedy prompted the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to hasten the presentation of the New Pact on Migration.

The Pact had been expected for months and had been postponed due to the pandemic. It proposes a new European system of governance of migration, with a new "strong solidarity mechanism", allowing for a better distribution and care of refugees and asylum seekers within the European Union.

With this new Pact, Europe's ambition is to leave behind several years of discussions that were as superficial as they were futile, and which have led to the mistreatment of asylum seekers. In particular, this new Pact proposes the abolition of the Dublin Regulation, a mechanism that places the responsibility of processing asylum applications on the first EU country through which the asylum seeker enters European soil. This procedure has long left the Southern European countries of Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta on the front line.

But five years after the 2015 refugee crisis, the issue of the reception of asylum seekers remains a highly divisive subject within the EU. In order to reform the Dublin system and overcome the current divisions, we must first recall that the examination of asylum applications must remain separate from the management of refugee flows. Asylum is a fundamental right guaranteed by an international treaty, the Geneva Convention. It is subject to an individual examination sanctioned by a judge and as such, it is not part of European migration policies, strictly speaking.

An inefficient and unjust system

In October 2018, Institut Montaigne and Terra Nova called for a recasting of the European asylum policy, after having identified the dysfunctions inherent to the Dublin Regulation. Dublin has indeed proved to be unjust, inefficient and inhumane.

It is unjust, because it places the bulk of the burden of registration, initial reception and management of applications on countries located on the main routes used by asylum seekers.

It is ineffective, since many of these countries, already reluctant to make the disproportionate efforts imposed on them, have little material and administrative means to carry out these missions. The injustice and inefficiency of this system has, moreover, precipitated humanly unacceptable situations and human rights abuses, of which the Moria camp in Greece was one of the most flagrant examples.

The abolition of the first country of entry clause, which is a cornerstone of the Dublin system, is a first step towards the implementation of a humane, effective and more united European policy. But other measures must be put in place in order to make the new asylum policy align with our values. In particular, the bodies responsible for examining asylum applications should be given the status of independent authorities, in order to protect them from political pressure.

The abolition of the first country of entry clause [...] is a first step towards the implementation of a humane, effective and more united European policy.

It is also important to grant asylum seekers the freedom to choose the country that will examine their application, even if, in the event of a particular influx to a Member State, equalization mechanisms must be applied in accordance with the principle of solidarity. Finally, there is an urgent need to set up European reception and processing centers in countries with a Mediterranean shoreline, to enable the rapid and dignified processing of cases of persons rescued at sea, so that a decision can be taken without delay.

A sense of compromise

In order to get the Member States to agree on this pact, the Commission will need to do more than just brandish the common values of hospitality, solidarity and tolerance. Europe has time and again shown that these remain subordinate to national egoisms. It will also have to deal with the contradictory interests of its Member States, especially those of the Visegrad Group countries and Austria, firmly refusing to accept any new arrivals.

It is also necessary to strengthen the capacity of the European Union to send back to their countries of origin those whose right to asylum has been rejected.

It is necessary for all EU States to be involved in the new solidarity mechanism, and this will not be done through the system of quotas evoked in vain for several years. It can instead be achieved through other mechanisms, in particular a financial or logistical contribution from the recalcitrant States, in order to ensure an equitable distribution of efforts between European States according to their population, their GDP per capita and their unemployment rate.

In order to convince the Central and Eastern European states of the possibility of implementing a policy of solidarity and control, it is also necessary to strengthen the capacity of the European Union to send back to their countries of origin those whose right to asylum has been rejected, which may prove difficult, insofar as many states still refuse to recognize and thus reintegrate their own nationals. The European Union must assert itself as more sovereign and less naïve in this area. As the leading provider of development aid, it must now use this policy to encourage recipient states to reintegrate their citizens whose right to asylum has been rejected when it turns out that they are not eligible for any other form of legal access to immigration.

The abolition of the Dublin Regulation will be an unquestionable step forward, but the success of the New Pact for Migration requires an in-depth renovation of the reception policy and a better consideration of migration issues in the Union's future international partnerships.

 

Courtesy of L'Express, where the article was originally published on 25/09/2020

Corpyright: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

 

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