Brussels, Belgium, 23 September 2020 — Responding to the publication of the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, Imogen Sudbery, the International Rescue Committee’s Director of Policy and Advocacy for Europe, said:
The Commission’s long-awaited new Pact was an opportunity for Europe to set out a fair, humane and comprehensive system that works in the best interests of new arrivals and host communities. Instead, it continues to prioritise preventing people from arriving in Europe. This is short sighted and fails to properly recognise that migration is, and will continue to be, a fact of life. While we recognise the political constraints surrounding the proposals, it cannot be right to trade the rights of the most vulnerable in order to secure the approval of member states reluctant to take their fair share of responsibility.
The recent fires in Moria on the Greek island of Lesvos should have been a wake-up call for the EU, demonstrating that keeping people in overcrowded border camps is simply not an option. However, while proposals to swiftly move people onwards are welcome, it is difficult to see how the procedures outlined today will not result in de-facto detention for those awaiting the outcome of their asylum claims. The construction of new compounds on the Greek Islands also suggests a continuation of the current containment model, and mandatory border screening could mean more camps on Europe’s borders – not less. These inhumane facilities should never have existed in the first place. They must not be the blueprint for the EU’s future approach to forced migration
Blame cannot fall solely on frontline EU states receiving new arrivals. In a Union based on solidarity, no country alone should bear responsibility for receiving people in need of international protection. It’s encouraging to see the Commission’s new plans for mandatory solidarity – including new powers to hold EU countries accountable for violating its rules. We also welcome its plans to strengthen family reunification. However, it’s imperative that the Pact’s preoccupation with returns doesn't come at the expense of a fair, sensible and humane relocation policy within the EU.
It is also essential that safe and legal pathways are at the heart of the EU’s approach to forced migration and not an afterthought - as currently the only option for too many people fleeing violence and conflict is to risk their lives on dangerous journeys. The EU must revive negotiations on a common European framework, which we would have expected to see as a key component of the Pact.
In addition, we call on member states to urgently restart and scale-up resettlement programmes, and to make additional pledges for 2021 despite the Commission’s proposal to simply extend the current scheme by another year.
In terms of cooperation with third countries, there is a continuation of directing essential funds towards stemming migration that could be used to address critical development needs. By contrast, there is scant mention of cooperating with third countries to improve their legal frameworks and better ensure the protection of migrants and refugees, such as developing alternatives for those held in terrifying conditions in Libya.
The Pact provided an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate commitment to its fundamental values of respect for human rights and dignity by ensuring that everyone is able to exercise their right to claim asylum and have that claim examined in a fair and timely way. We welcome the role foreseen for the Fundamental Rights Agency in making sure this happens, but this will not help if the rules themselves do not uphold those rights. Many questions remain as to whether that will be the case.
That tens of thousands of people are living in squalid conditions, without access to basic services, in Europe, is shameful. In the context of the global pandemic, it is also grossly irresponsible. The IRC and other humanitarian organisations will continue to call for the EU to end the protection crisis faced by people on the move, to invest in integration and social inclusion, to revive and scale up its resettlement efforts, to protect people who are forced to put their lives at risk along irregular migration routes, and to open more safe, legal pathways to EU territory. We look forward to working closely with the EU institutions in the ensuing negotiations to shape a new system that puts people, rather than borders, at the heart of its policies. The proposal we were presented with this week, unfortunately, doesn't measure up.
For further IRC analysis of the EU Pact click here