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5th Mar 2024

NGOs: EU asylum overhaul will create 'cruel system'

  • The erection of border fences and walls continues, as EU states shore up external borders (Photo: Jannik, Unsplash)
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Rights defenders are issuing dire warnings that the EU's overhaul of its asylum system risks curtailing international protection standards.

Just as co-legislators aim to hammer out an agreement behind closed doors, over 50 organisations on Monday (18 December) warned that a potential deal risks creating an "ill-functioning, costly, and cruel system."

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Their warning is based on the latest negotiations between the council, representing member states, and the European Parliament along with the European Commission.

The aim is to reach political agreement, possibly later on Monday, amid intense political pressure in the hopes of wrapping up the fine print before the European elections next June.

But a Spanish EU presidency paper, leaked earlier this month by civil liberties group Statewatch, reveals that the parliament has made major concessions that will likely see more restrictive asylum rules.

"If adopted in its current format, it will normalise the arbitrary use of immigration detention, including for children and families," notes the letter, signed by Amnesty, Oxfam, ActionAid and Save the Children, and others.

This includes the mandatory channelling of a large number of asylum seekers into border procedures, where many will most likely be detained and rapidly deported.

And the long-standing dispute over the solidarity concept has been water downed to evade relocations, whereby arriving asylum seekers are dispersed among EU states.

Med Five and sea rescues

Critics says the system is likely to see Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain shoulder most of the responsibility, given as coastal Mediterranean EU states they are most exposed to irregular arrivals.

On paper, Rome also appears to have made major concessions when it comes to sending asylum seekers back to Italy from other EU states under the first-state of entry Dublin rules.

For instance, under current rules Germany has 12-months to return an asylum seeker back to Italy. If that deadline is missed, then Germany has to take over responsibility of that individual.

But that deadline has been extended to two years, and even three in case an asylum seeker absconds, posing questions on why Italy would accept it.

However, Italy also managed to expand the safe-third country concept in order to more easily carry out deportations.

"If Italy withdraws from any one of the proposals, the whole house of cards will come down," said Catherine Woollard, director of the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

Woollard suggested this is also why the European Commission supported Italy in its surprise agreement to offshore asylum to Albania, a move that courts in Tirana have since suspended.

For its part, the European Commission maintains that its five proposals that make up the core of the pact on migration and asylum, will respond to all the problems faced by EU states.

"Agreement on the pact will mean safer and better managed migration, which is in the interest of all," said Ylva Johansson, the EU's home affairs commissioner.

The current broken system has seen widespread illegal pushbacks at the external borders of the European Union and the erection of internal border controls.

EU states have also erected more fences, barriers and walls as the European Commission continues to co-finance surveillance systems to help stymie the entry of irregular migrants.

And there has also been an increase of deaths at sea, with over 2,500 people missing or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

The true figure is likely much higher.

The most recent known event saw 61 people, including women and children, drown over the weekend following a shipwreck off Libya.

"The central Mediterranean continues to be one of the world's most dangerous migration routes," said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an UN-offshoot.

EU creating new incentive for illegal pushbacks

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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