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5th Mar 2024

Ministers given 50/50 chance of reaching EU asylum deal

  • NGOs say the latest rules would likely lead to prison-like detention for asylum seekers (Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)
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EU home affairs ministers are gathering in Luxembourg to thrash out an agreement on core asylum and migration reforms.

But expectations of an agreement, following their meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (8 June), remained mixed.

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"Will we succeed? I hope so. But I'm not sure. It's 50/50. It's a politically very delicate issue," one senior EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, told reporters on Wednesday.

A consensus is unlikely given the stiff resistance from Poland and Hungary.

Instead, a qualified majority vote may end up sidelining their opposition in order to get a general agreement.

Earlier this week, Ylva Johansson, the EU's migration commission, had appeared more confident.

"There is a big chance that we can have a very important breakthrough," she said.

The ministers are hoping to reach an agreement on the asylum procedures regulation (APR) and the asylum and migration management regulation (AMMR).

If they manage, they'll be able to start negotiations with the European Parliament in the hopes of reaching an agreement on the overall asylum and migration package sometime early next year.

The APR sets out requirements on asylum processes in Europe, while the AMMR introduces politically toxic concepts like solidarity and responsibility.

Those two concepts have eluded EU states for years, especially when it comes to relocation whereby EU states distribute arriving asylum seekers.

The concepts have since been merged into what EU officials describe as mandatory flexible solidarity.

This means EU states must demonstrate some form of solidarity, without being required to relocate asylum seekers.

The Swedish EU presidency has also proposed allowing EU states to pay a fee for every person they choose not to relocate as part of a so-called "alternative solidarity contribution."

"I think the latest proposal indeed is €20,000," said a second EU diplomat.

Other figures are also discussed, noted the diplomat, including proposals to relocate 30,000 people per year.

Should those relocation targets be missed, then EU states may have to assume responsibility of asylum seekers on their territory instead of sending them back to the first country of entry as stipulated under the Dublin rules, said the source.

The overall aim is to curb migration pressures by restricting asylum rights.

Fears are also mounting that the new rules will lead to prison like camps near the external borders.

The border procedure plans include expediting asylum claims and returns for people whose overall EU average recognition rate is 20 percent or below.

"It is in a sort of closed setting that you will have this whole procedure and it's a relatively short procedure," said the second EU diplomat.

Oxfam, an NGO, has blasted the idea.

"It is a mere carbon copy of the broken model seen on the Greek islands," said Stephanie Pope, Oxfam EU migration expert, in a statement.

"It will lock away refugees, including children, at a huge cost, in prison-like centres at Europe's edges and block their right to asylum," she said.

At the same time, the EU is relying on shoring up agreements with other countries to stop people from leaving on boats towards Europe.

That externalisation is seen as a key driver for EU states to also agree to internal EU asylum reforms.

Earlier this week, the European Commission said that arrivals on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands has reduced thanks to Spain and Morocco.

It now wants to implement anti-smuggling operational partnership with Morocco, while boosting joint investigation teams to gather intelligence on smuggling in Mauritania, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Mali, Guinea, and Niger.

The EU's border agency Frontex is also set to do more work in Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal.

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