Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

Legal complaint filed with EU Commission over migration

  • Greece has been accused of numerous 'push-backs' of migrants and refugees (Photo: Republic of Turkey)

Dutch lawyers have filed a legal complaint, urging the European Commission to hold Greece accountable for violating EU asylum laws.

The law firm filed the 68-page complaint on the behalf of international aid agency Oxfam and the NGO WeMove Europe, demanding the European Commission do its job as the guardian of the treaties.

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"This is not the first time the commission is being called to action, and so far, for political reasons, they have simply not done anything, or enough," said Maurits ter Haar, a senior associate at the Amsterdam-based De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek N.V. law firm.

Speaking to EUobserver on Monday (21 September), Ter Haar said the most pressing issue were the so-called 'push-backs' in Greece - an illegal practice that forces people seeking international protection from entering the desired territory or state.

Greek authorities earlier this year suspended asylum applications for a month, following Turkey's threat to use migrants and refugees as political leverage against Athens and the EU.

But media reports, videos and other documented evidence show people being forced back into Turkey amid the shooting of several people, including the killing of a young Syrian national.

Greek ministers have refuted the shootings, claiming it is concocted disinformation by Ankara, despite forensic analysis suggesting otherwise.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have both demanded investigations into the push-backs.

The European Commission says its support for Greece remains unequivocal - but has floated an idea to possibly better monitor push-backs.

The Brussels-executive has also remained largely silent on the month-long Greek asylum suspension and refuses to make public its own legal analysis on the Greek move.

"The EU prides itself on the rule of law and fundamental rights but at the same time it looks away when this is happening," pointed out Ter Haar.

The commission will now have 12 months to respond to the legal complaint, but it is not compelled to do anything about it.

New pact today

However, with the European Commission set to announce its new pact on migration and asylum on Wednesday, the latest legal manoeuvre also comes at a tricky time.

The latest pact has made a number of promises to overhaul a broken EU asylum system.

Previous efforts in 2016 led to a deadlock among member states, who failed to reach agreement on a number of the proposals - of which the most contentious remained the Dublin regulation, which governs which country is responsible for processing an asylum application.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament had endorsed those proposals only to to drop everything given the impasse among member states.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said of the new pact that there is no plan to open reception centres in countries that are not in the European Union.

"It is not the direction I intend to take. We will not export the right to asylum," she said.

But Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik said she is convinced there will be some sort of border procedure in the pact.

"Everyone says that if we want to have a new solidarity system, we need to have a filter process, we need to have an assessment at the external border in order to know who we are going to relocate," she told reporters on Tuesday.

Strik said some EU states, such as the Netherlands, want a fully-fledged asylum system at the external borders - while Italy and Malta only want it to carry out registrations and identifications.

"We should limit the procedure there [the EU's external border] actually, like some southern member states say, to registration, identification and then do a match [with] which member states is the most eligible," she said.

The Greens are also pushing to have member states trade off the number of people resettled from outside the EU with the number of people they relocate.

Strik described it as an "award" for those that resettle more than they relocate.

Their plan seeks to rid the EU with the current principle that the member state of first entry should also largely be responsible for the asylum application process.

"Basically you would arrive at the border and you would be registered by the EU and Frontex and go through basic security checks and then you would be accommodated somewhere in an open reception facility," said German Volt MEP Damian Boeselager, who is also part of the Greens/European Free Alliance group.

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