By Barbara Joannon, Head of Programme and Advocacy
The EU Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum offers an opportunity. A chance to move away from a security driven approach to migration and asylum within the EU, to one based on human dignity, the rule of law and human rights.
But the New Pact comes with serious risks too. It could normalise and worsen trends we’re already witnessing across Europe: pushbacks at land and maritime borders, externalisation of migration and asylum policies, restricted access to asylum, and dire humanitarian situation at Europe’s borders.
We need sustainable solutions that uphold, without exception, individuals’ access to asylum and comply with international and European human rights and refugee law.
Here is what we hope the New Pact will do:
- Expand safe and legal pathways to and across the EU to protect individuals from violent criminal trafficking rings and from life-threatening journeys across land and sea. In all circumstances, displaced people must be offered the opportunity to apply for asylum including when they present themselves spontaneously at borders.
- Ensure a full and harmonised implementation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Right now, the inconsistent implementation of the CEAS creates distrust between Member States. It leads to more and more unilateral decision-making based on so-called national interest, often in violation of international and EU law. It has led to a scenario where illegal pushbacks and containment are central aspects of the EU’s asylum system.
- Pave the way for a revision of the Dublin III Regulation. We need a systematic solidarity mechanism that guarantees asylum seekers’ rights and gives Member states a framework to share their responsibilities fairly, during and beyond crises. It should take the individual circumstances and preferences of prospective asylum seekers into account, such as family links and the best interests of children. For that reason, it should omit the “country of first entry” criterion.
- Guarantee a rights-based approach to managing European internal and external borders. Displaced people have the right apply for asylum. They have the right not to be subjected to refoulement, inhumane and degrading treatment and arbitrary detention. Yet these happen daily across the EU, contrary to international and European human rights and refugee law. These violations don’t just sharpen the divide around core EU values or undermine the EU’s external image and international reputation. They risk having a negative impact on European social cohesion, normalising violence against newcomers and playing into populist and xenophobic political groups who instrumentalise border management for political gains.
- Increase the accountability of Members States and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency for their border practices. All too often, pushbacks on land and maritime borders are not denounced or investigated. It’s important that we use existing mechanisms, such as the European Commission’s infringement procedures, the EBCGA’s complaints mechanism or the EU Ombudsman initiatives and inquiries, to hold them to account. The New pact should also include arrangements for an appropriate reporting and monitoring mechanism, as recently suggested by the European Commission. This will help ensure that investigations and convictions of responsible actors take place.
- Stop externalising European asylum and migration responsibilities to third countries. The New Pact should not lead to the opening of asylum processing facilities in third countries. Third-country cooperation should only take place with states that have a functioning asylum system, are party to the Geneva Convention and the 1967 New York Protocol and comply with international human rights law in law and in practice. Also, the introduction of a systematic and mandatory ‘admissibility procedure’ based on the concepts of ‘safe third country’ and ‘country of first asylum’ should be removed from all proposals.
- Create a different narrative about migration and asylum. We need a narrative grounded in facts, empathy and solidarity. Painting people seeking safety as “threats” or “invaders” not only increases negative attitudes towards them, it polarises society in a false debate on security versus human rights.
In short, we hope that the New Pact can carve a path to a more humane, responsible and dignified approach to asylum and migration. Or, as Commissioner Schinas described it, one that upholds ‘our European way of life’, namely “being open to the world and extending heart and home to those who are less fortunate”.