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Towards a better allocation of rescued migrants in the Mediterranean?

Three questions to Jean-François Rial and Jean-Paul Tran Thiet

Towards a better allocation of rescued migrants in the Mediterranean?
 Jean-François Rial
CEO and Co-founder, Voyageurs du Monde
 Jean-Paul Tran Thiet
Senior Fellow - Justice, European Affairs

Following a meeting in Helsinki, Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministers of the European Union (EU) met in Paris on July 22 for an attempt at restoring cooperation within the EU for the allocation of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. This meeting led to an agreement in principle on the creation of a European “solidarity mechanism" for the allocation of these migrants. Although it is not a lasting solution to the current crisis, it draws the contours of a more human Europe. Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde and Jean-Paul Tran-Thiet, Senior Fellow at Institut Montaigne, both co-chairs of the working group behind the report Saving the Right to Asylum, share their analysis.

In what context does this agreement come into play?

For several years, discussions have been blocked at the European level on how to welcome asylum seekers and deal with the number of requests that exploded since 2015, when the Iraqi-Syrian crisis forced hundreds of thousands of people into exile.

The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council had planned to review the system set up nearly 30 years ago, at a time when security crises and the migration phenomenon were much more limited. This system, based on the Dublin Convention (henceforth named “Dublin Regulation”), established the principle by which the country of first entry into the European Union has the responsibility of receiving asylum seekers and handling their cases. It was never adequate and was shattered by the 2015 crisis, when clandestine "secondary" flows to France, Germany and Northern European countries multiplied. The rise of populists, largely fuelled by Europe's inability to deal rationally with issues of asylum and migration, has made the task of building consensus even harder than before. Since the June 2018 European Council meeting, meant to unblock the negotiations, nothing had progressed.

In a joint report published by Institut Montaigne and Terra Nova, Saving the Right to Asylum, we have made several proposals for breaking through the current deadlock, especially regarding the fate of "sea refugees" which requires an urgent resolution, both from a political and humanitarian standpoint.

With this first step towards consensus building, allowing the allocation of the most vulnerable refugees among EU member states, ministers gathered in Paris have unlocked, in a promising way, a decision-making process that had not progressed since 2016. 

In your opinion, is the level of ambition of this agreement up to stake with the current situation?

The agreement reached on July 22 in Paris, between 14 EU member states, demonstrates the relevance of the ideas and proposals contained in our joint report by Institut Montaigne and Terra Nova:

  • attempting an opt-in solution with several pioneer countries, without requiring consensus among the 27 countries;
  • putting on hold the "Dublin system", whose inefficiency and harmfulness are now proven; and
  • reaffirming, for those who refuse any solidarity effort, that this founding principle of European integration is not "à la carte" and that there will be consequences for those refusing to participate.

It is heartening that a majority of Member States - a simple majority at this stage, pending verification of what countries will commit - are willing to take these guidelines into consideration.

Of course, this first step, while crucial, must be followed by others to define a real strategy for the European Union both in terms of asylum and migration. This is only a start.

What are the next steps to follow this decision?

A meeting will be held in Malta in September during which the fourteen countries that have signed the agreement in principle should confirm commitment to this set of proposals. Eight of them have already done so. In addition to the remaining six, several countries who initially expressed reservations may eventually join the coalition.

How will these decisions be formalized? It is too early to tell. But Europe has imagined, throughout its history, pragmatic solutions that range from "enhanced cooperation" to Opt In/Opt Out mechanisms (allowing countries not to apply a measure for a given period). This topic is too important that we should not hesitate to be innovative, even if that implies cutting corners of institutional rigor. What matters is to act quickly and to commit to country policy convergence, while respecting the principle of solidarity.

Besides, the statement issued after the meeting between President Emmanuel Macron and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, calling on Libya to "put an end to the detention” of migrants suffering in this country from unworthy and degrading treatment, constitutes a positive step forward. Those who promised that the solution to asylum and migration issues would be in confinement policies in so-called safe countries outside Europe are now well aware that the situation in Libya is a humanitarian tragedy.


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