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5th Mar 2024

EU presidency to enact asylum reforms despite abuse claims

  • Belgium's migration minister Nicole de Moor (left) had a coffee machine and freezer confiscated due to her office refusing to pay outstanding fines over asylum abuse cases (Photo: European Union)
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Belgium's EU presidency wants to implement a recent overhaul of EU asylum laws, amid warnings that detention-like centres will mushroom as a result.

"We have to turn this reform on paper into concrete action on the ground and that's what the Belgian presidency will do," Belgium's migration minister Nicole de Moor told reporters on Thursday (25 January).

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Domestically, de Moor is battling thousands of legal cases in favour of asylum seekers and ballooning unpaid fines against the state.

And her refusal to pay the outstanding fines led a judge to issue orders, earlier this month, to confiscate a coffee machine and freezer from her office to be sold in a public auction.

De Moor's Belgian problems aside, her comments on Thursday came ahead of a gathering of interior ministers in Brussels, following a December political agreement on the reforms known as the EU pact on asylum and migration.

The final text is currently going through legal wrangling ahead of a final April vote at a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg.

But de Moor's comments also followed a report by Border Violence Monitoring Network, an advocacy network, that has documented dire conditions of EU-funded migrant centres on the Greek islands.

They say the Greek centres, including one on Samos island, are a harbinger of what is to be expected once the asylum reforms are implemented on the ground.

In Samos, a close-control centre is surrounded by barbed wire and home to some 1,500 people. Entirely funded by the EU, the centre is located near a military base and guarded by G4S, a private security firm, along with the Greek police.

Testimonies cited in the advocacy report allege lack of hygiene, cockroach infestations, months-old expired food, as well as physical violence against people detained in quarantine zones.

The Samos testimonies were collected last May, around a month before European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, who is Greek, defended the centres as "dignified" and "compatible with our standards" during a meeting with MEPs in the civil liberties committee.

His comments came despite reports that the European Commission has threatened to take Greece to court over the centres.

New rules in the EU pact on asylum are likely to compound the woes among those at the centres, according to NGO groups.

Among the worries is the pending introduction of the legal fiction of 'non-entry', coded into the EU's asylum reforms, which has since been described as a game-changer for Greece.

Such legal concepts already exist at special zones in international airports, for instance.

"For Greece, this would be a game-changer," said Minos Mouzourakis, a legal officer at the Greek-based Refugee Support Aegean, in comments made early last month.

He said the legal fiction of non-entry would allow EU states to mass detain people on their soil without having to treat them as having entered the territory.

"This would have a very substantial impact in practice with mass detention and border camps," he said. The costs, he said, would also be huge, not only for people at the centres, but also for the state.

Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns

Germany is expanding agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as part of a wider shift in Europe to curtail migration. Berlin has reached deals with Georgia and Morocco since December.

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