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5th Mar 2021

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

  • The 'hotspots' concept in Greece may end up being the template for the new migration pact. (Photo: Spyros V. Oikonomou)

The European Commission's long-awaited and long-delayed pact on migration will include new asylum centres along the outer rim of the European Union, EUobserver has been told.

The idea is part of a German proposal, floated last year, that seeks to rapidly pre-screen asylum seekers before they enter European Union territory.

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Michael Spindelegger, director-general of the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) told EUobserver on Thursday (9 July) that the European Commission had in fact decided to include it into their upcoming migration pact.

"I got some information that this will be part of these proposals from the European Commission. So this is what I can tell you. I think this really is something that could bring some movement in the whole debate," he said.

Spindelegger was Austria's minister of foreign affairs and finance minister before taking over the ICMPD in 2016, where he has been outspoken in favour of such centres as a means to unblock disagreements among member states on the overhaul of the future EU-wide asylum system.

The German non-paper published in November 2019 proposed a mandatory initial assessment of asylum applications at the external border.

The idea is to prevent irregular and economic migrants from adding to the administrative bottlenecks of bona-fide asylum seekers and refugees.

"Manifestly unfounded or inadmissible applications shall be denied immediately at the external border, and the applicant must not be allowed to enter the EU," stated the paper.

EUobserver understands the new pact may also include a three-tiered approach.

Abusive claims would be immediately dismissed and returned, those clearly in the need for protection would be relocated to an EU state, while the remainder would end up in some sort of facility.

Spindelegger concedes the idea has its detractors - noting it will be also be tricky to find the legal framework to support it.

"To give people, within some days, the right expectation is a good thing - so this is more or less a surprise that the European Commission took this initiative, because there are also some people who are totally against this," he said.

EU 'hotspots' in Greece

Among those is Oxfam International, an NGO that says people may end up in similar circumstances currently found in the so-called hotspots on the Greek islands.

"We are very concerned that the Greek law and the hotspots on the islands are going to be the blueprint for the new asylum and migration pact and we have seen them failed in every criteria," said Oxfam International's Raphael Shilhav, an expert on migration.

The hotspots were initially touted as a solution by the European Commission to facilitate and expedite asylum claims of people seeking international protection, who had disembarked from Turkey to the Greek islands.

The zones on the islands quickly turned into overcrowded camps where people, including women and children, are forced to live amid filth and violence.

Shilvav said some people at the hotspots who deserved asylum ended up falling through the cracks, noting new Greek laws effectively bar many people who do not have legal support from appealing an asylum rejection.

EUobserver has previously spoken to one asylum seeker from the Congo who had spent almost three years living in a tent with others at the hotspot in Moria on Lesbos island.

The new pact is a cornerstone policy of the Von der Leyen Commission and follows years of bickering among member states who failed to agree on a previous proposal to overhaul the existing EU-wide asylum rules.

"Over the past few years, many member states simply refused to find a solution," Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer said ahead of the current German EU presidency's first debate on home affairs issues.

The commission has so far refused to release any specific details of the plan - which has been delayed until September, following the eruption of the pandemic and on-going debates over the EU's next long-term budget.

"This proposal will be there to protect and defend the right to asylum and that includes the possibility to apply for asylum, that is a right for everybody to do so," EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson told MEPs earlier this week.

For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says the new pact needs to be common and workable.

"This means establishing fair and fast asylum procedures to quickly determine who needs international protection and who does not," a UNHCR spokeswoman said, in an emailed statement.

She also noted that some 85 percent of the world's refugees are currently hosted in neighbouring and developing countries and that more funds are needed for humanitarian and development support.

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