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19th Sep 2020

New EU migration pact 'to keep people in their country'

  • The EU's long-anticipated new migration pact is set to be unveiled on 23 September (Photo: PES)

The European Commission has described its forthcoming pact on migration and asylum as akin to a 'house' - with an emphasis on keeping people from entering.

"This proposal will remind you of a house with three floors," announced commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas on Friday (11 September).

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Speaking to reporters at a press conference with Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer, Schinas outlined three broad areas of the pact, which is finally set to be unveiled 23 September.

"The first [floor] will be a very strong external dimension with agreements with countries of origin and transit to keep people, for a better life, in their countries," he said.

A shored-up EU border and coast guard agency, also known as Frontex, will be on the 'second floor' of the house.

"The second would be a robust system of managing our external border with a new European Border and Coast Guard with many more staff, boats, instruments and tools."

The top and final 'floor' of the plan revolves around a concept Schinas describes as a "system of permanent, effective solidarity".

That system aims to help spread out asylum-seeking arrivals throughout the EU.

A similar plan for relocating asylum seekers, but via quotas per country, was announced by the previous commission but eventually derailed its own proposal to overhaul EU-wide asylum laws.

The latest pact has been kept under tight wraps and follows numerous delays over the past year, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But it now comes in the immediate wake of the disaster of the fire which destroyed the EU 'hotspot' Moria, an overcrowded camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Moria was conceived by the European Commission in May 2015 to be a core element of its EU migration policy, until it burned to the ground earlier this week.

"Moria does not exist anymore, so it is clear that the Greek authorities will have to quickly set up a more modern installation," said Schinas.

The European Union has disbursed some €2.6bn of EU funds for migration to Greece alone since 2015, but the Moria 'hotspot' has been unable to provide basic necessities like clean water for the thousands living at the camp.

When asked why conditions in Moria were so bad despite Athens receiving so much money, an EU commission spokesperson declared that "the situation has been complex for a pretty long period of time."

Now Greece is set to receive more EU funds.

Schinas said the European Commission is not only ready to finance and support the construction of a new facility in Lesbos, but they are also ready to consider any Greek request for a more active role in its management.

"This is an idea that I will discuss with the Greek prime minister later this morning," said Schinas on Friday.

The commission also took part credit for halving the number of Moria residents from 25,000 earlier this year to 12,000 before the fire.

Moria was only designed for 3,000 people. Arrivals on the islands had meanwhile slowed because of the pandemic.

Some 400 unaccompanied minors have since left Lesbos for the Greek mainland and set to be dispersed among 10 EU states. France and Germany have said they are willing to accommodate up to 150 each.

This story was updated on 14 September 2020 at 18:21 after it was announced the pact will be published on 23 September and not on 30 September as initially stated by the European Commission.

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