This Thursday, 23rd September 2021, marks one year since the European Commission presented its New Pact on Migration and Asylum. This complex package of reforms was intended to mark a “fresh start” for the EU’s migration and asylum policy. However, a year on, the IRC warns that the EU is moving in the wrong direction.

Imogen Sudbery, the IRC’s Executive Director of Policy & Advocacy, Europe, said:

“The hysteria we’ve seen from some European leaders in recent weeks surrounding Afghan people in need is unwarranted and alarmist. With a fair, sustainable and predictable asylum system in place, it would be perfectly possible for the EU to welcome more people in need of protection - and treat them with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, a year since the New Pact on Migration and Asylum was launched, this is far from the case.

The New Pact was the EU’s chance to fix the most damaging elements of its flawed approach to migration, and finally build a system that truly protects. While there has been some piecemeal progress, it’s clear that - in a number of critical areas - the EU is moving in the opposite direction.

The new EU-funded centres on the Greek islands, including the one opened on Samos this week, are a case in point. Despite being hailed as a “new chapter” by the Commission, these are a disturbing step in the wrong direction - designed to keep refugees out of sight and out of mind. The new centres paper over the deep structural cracks at the heart of the EU’s approach to migration and asylum: a striking absence of responsibility sharing, safe and legal pathways, and humane and effective reception systems. 

There are three steps that the EU and its member states can take now to make this a reality and create a system that benefits both refugees and local communities. First, EU leaders must urgently shift their focus away from policies of containment and deterrence, which continue to devastate the mental health and wellbeing of people trapped at Europe’s borders. EU leaders must urgently step up and guarantee that the new centres planned for the Greek islands will not become de-facto prisons in which new arrivals are detained by default. Everyone living within the facilities must have free movement, including access to essential services and transport to nearby cities to facilitate integration and social inclusion. 

Second, the EU must show both flexibility and balance in order to break the longstanding political deadlock at the root of the situation on the Greek islands and get positive parts of the new Pact over the finish line. While leaders have chosen to proceed with some of the more restrictive elements of the Pact package independently, this same approach must be taken to elements that could open up safe and legal routes to protection, such as the Union Resettlement Framework.

Third, rather than hiding behind the continued stalemate over responsibility-sharing, willing member states must step up and relocate new arrivals to safety from within Europe’s borders. This spirit needs to be mirrored by the EU as a whole, which should be a humanitarian leader rather than a follower. We urge EU leaders to work together with other wealthy nations on global responsibility-sharing, starting at next month’s Resettlement Forum where they have a chance to provide a desperately-needed lifeline to the most vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan and beyond.”