By Cheong H. Chan / GICJ

The European Council adopted the Migration and Asylum Pact on 14 May 2024. The Pact will take effect in 2026 and the bloc claimed it will help manage arrivals in an orderly way, create efficient and uniform procedures and ensure fair burden sharing between member states.

The European Parliament first passed the Migration and Asylum Pact on 10 April 2024 after eight years of work. The European Union (EU) first proposed to overhaul its immigration laws to handle the surging number of asylum seekers triggered by the political turmoil in the Middle East. The rising trend of immigrants halted during Covid-19 but resumed since 2022. Last year alone, there were over 1.1 million asylum applications in the EU and associated Schengen countries.

The Pact is considered as a the most significant reform of the bloc’s immigration laws in the past two decades and comprises ten regulations. According to the European Commission, the Pact will ensure that the Union has strong and secure external borders, that people's rights are guaranteed, and that no EU country is left alone under pressure. It builds upon four pillars, namely secure external borders, fast and efficient procedures, an effective system of solidarity and responsibility, and embedding migration in international partnerships.

The ten regulations cover a wide scope of migrant handling. One of their biggest controversies is embedding migration in international partnerships, which in practice would allow the extraterritorial processing of asylum requests and the extraterritorial detention of the subjects to be repatriated.  This overrides the Dublin Convention, which requires that the country in which the asylum seeker first applies for asylum is responsible for processing the claim. It is hard to guarantee the asylum seekers can receive the same level of human rights protection as within the EU borders when their application processing is outsourced to partner countries. Whether those countries would have sufficient supervision over the involved personnel, and how asylum seekers can appeal the application decisions and postpone deportation pending appeal, are only some of the many issues which would have huge impact on the migrants. Italy entered into a protocol with Albania last year to outsource asylum application processing. Under the protocol, the Balkan country processes up to 36,000 asylum applications for Italy every year. Under the Pact on Migration and Asylum, the bloc furthered collaborated with Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, the key stops on many refugees’ migratory routes, by giving funding to strengthen those partner countries’ border controls.

Provisions of the far-reaching overhaul ensure that necessary resources and sufficient competent personnel, including border control forces, are allocated for its implementation. Although the European Union keeps saying that this will help combat human trafficking and allow the bloc to take a more proactive approach to immigration, the emphasis on securing external borders also raises concern over violent pushbacks and increased use of detention, even for children.     

The Pact was supported by MEPs from the majority of the Member States, allowing it to bypass the opposition from Poland and Hungary. The two countries stated that they will not take any refugees from other Member States nor contribute to the Union’s fund for handling the refugee crisis.

The European Union’s tightening its grasp on immigration is a response to Member States’ concern with unsustainable immigration, which has become a key issue for several national governments. In countries like Germany and Sweden, which tended to be more migrant-friendly in the past, anti-migrant sentiment or questions about loose immigration rules rose in the recent years. Far right parties like National Rally in France and AfD in Germany gaining popularity in mainstream politics, often through deliberate anti-immigration rhetoric, also worry the governing parties.

On 15 May 2024, one day after the European Council adopted the Pact, a group of 15 Member States issued a joint letter to call for outsourcing migration and asylum policies. The call was initiated by Denmark, with support from Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece and Finland. The signatories emphasised that the key goals are to enhance the security of external borders and create more efficient asylum procedures. They encouraged the European Union and more Member States to consider forming partnerships with neighbouring countries, as in the EU-Turkey Statement and the Italy-Albania Protocol. By doing so, those partner countries could become predetermined places of safety outside the European Union, where durable solutions for refugees can be delivered.

The European Commission welcomed the new legislation. Within the Parliament, despite support from the majority, some MEPs were dissatisfied. Malin Björk from Sweden’s Vänsterpartiet critiqued that the Pact undermines the individual right to seek asylum, failing to tackle what it was set to solve. Over 150 migrant charities and non-governmental organisations have shown concern towards the new laws. The Danish Refugee Council suggested that the Pact will subject asylum seekers to higher risks of violent pushbacks and deplorable detention.  

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls for the European Union’s greater attention towards the significant human rights risks facing the asylum seekers under the new immigration reform. All provisions under the Pact on Migration and Asylum and their implementation at the national level must comply with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. GICJ also urges and the European Union and Member States to provide sufficient support and robust protection for asylum seekers. 


Image source: (Flickr)

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