28th Sep 2023

Negotiations on asylum reform to start next week, says MEP

  • Child asylum seekers could end up being detained under EU state proposals, warn NGOs (Photo: UNICEF)
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The European Parliament is seeking to launch negotiations on key asylum reforms with member states as early as next week.

The demand follows Thursday's (8 June) breakthrough political agreement in Luxembourg among EU interior ministers, paving the way for the co-legislatures to enter talks along with the European Commission in the hope of reaching a formal agreement on the overall reforms early next year.

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"I would like to start trialogue Tuesday in Strasbourg and so far, I think no one has rejected or declined," said Tomas Tobe, a Swedish-centre right MEP, on Friday (9 June).

Tobe is spearheading the asylum and migration management regulation on behalf of the European Parliament.

The regulation deals with the politically-charged issues of solidarity and responsibility, including relocations whereby arriving asylum seekers would be distributed across EU states on a voluntary basis.

EU interior ministers on Thursday finally managed to agree on these concepts, following years of stalemate, as well as separately a policy to shuffle people, including children, through an up-to-six month border procedure that may lead to detention centres.

Among some of the other novelties coming out of the Luxembourg talks are ideas for EU states to pay €20,000 for each person they don't want to relocate. Although details still need to be thrashed out, the money would then be channelled into an EU body and possibly invested overseas.

EU interior ministers also proposed making it easier to send unwanted migrants to other third countries that they deem safe. Those sent to such countries must also either have family or have settled or stayed there in the past.

But EU states can also determine other criteria, opening up the possibility of sending people to places like Tunisia for simply having transited it through it on their way to Europe.

Tobe declined to say if he supported either of the two ideas ahead of negotiations, instead praising the breakthrough deal among EU interior ministers.

But left-leaning political factions, including the Greens, appeared less impressed.

EU interior minister ideas to send families and children through a border procedure, where they may end up in detention centres, has riled human rights defenders.

Green president, German Terry Reintke, said Thursday's deal "goes against European values such as fundamental rights and respect for the rule of law."

And German socialist MEP, Birgit Sippel, said the parliament rejects compulsory fast-track procedures at the external borders.

"Where member states choose to apply fast-track procedures, families with children and unaccompanied minors must be exempt," she said.

German interior minister Nancy Faeser had made similar demands — which failed to muster widespread support among her counterparts in Luxembourg.

"If Germany had voted against the compromise today, together with Hungary and Poland, among others, a common European asylum policy based on solidarity would be dead for years," she explained.

The two files agreed on Thursday are part of a much large reform on asylum and migration.

Other proposals are already under inter-institutional negotiations, including a regulation on a pre-entry screening process for almost anyone arriving at an EU border irregularly.

Those talks kicked off at the end of April with a political triologue set for end the month. Talks have also already started on the Eurodac regulation that lays out rules on the collection and sharing of biometric data.

Meanwhile, the momentum of reinforcing the externalisation of migration continues to gain pace.

In April, EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson travelled to Tunisia to secure a deal to stop migrants from taking boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea towards Italy.

On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president will also be heading to Tunisia, along with Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands.

Some 47,000 migrants arrived from Tunisia to Italy in the first five months of this year, compared to around 18,000 last year. Meloni has since praised Tunisia for reducing those numbers in May.

At the same time, the number of documented deaths or people missing in the central Mediterranean continues to increase, at over 1,000 so far this year alone.

In comparison, some 1,400 went missing or died throughout the whole of last year along the same route, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

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We propose a mandatory solidarity mechanism that allows for flexible options. Every member state will have to contribute in one way or another - through either relocation, return sponsorship or capacity-building measures, writes EPP rapporteur Tomas Tobé MEP.

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After years of negotiations, EU states finally reached a political agreement on asylum in order to start negotiations with the European Parliament. But a closer look at the details behind last week's agreement, reveals a new recipe for pushbacks.

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