Thursday

20th Jan 2022

Opinion

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

  • The plan for 'regional disembarkation platforms' bear all the hallmarks of the far-right led by Viktor Orban, Heinz-Christian Strache and Matteo Salvini. (Photo: Alessandro Rota/Oxfam)

For years, the European Parliament has been calling for safe and legal pathways to the European Union.

However, the absence of legal ways to enter Europe has turned the Mediterranean sea into the deadliest border in the world.

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To address this situation, resettlement is one of the legal ways where member states need urgently to step up their commitments.

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

We are proposing an EU programme that responds to the individual protection needs of the most vulnerable refugees - a plan of action that demonstrates our solidarity with countries outside the EU that are currently hosting large numbers of refugees.

This is the very basis of the important programmes that the UNHCR has run for many decades, and the UNHCR has the central role in the future of an EU resettlement programme.

In order to ensure that the EU makes a meaningful contribution to the annual global resettlement needs (as identified by the UNHCR), the European Parliament wants to see a resettlement programme where all EU member states participate.

However, council has rejected the compulsory nature of the programme outright.

Despite this, negotiations with the council had already reached quite an advanced stage when the file was blocked by the 'coreper' (committee of the permanent representatives of the governments of the member states to the European Union) just days before the EU summit in June.

Then, at the dawn of the Austrian EU presidency, the council meeting decided to shift focus: far from insisting on a reform of the Common European asylum system (CEAS) - and the Dublin regulation in particular - the council conclusions bear all the hallmarks of the far-right led by Viktor Orban, Heinz-Christian Strache and Matteo Salvini.

Keeping it 'external'

Instead of agreeing on a model of sharing intra-EU responsibility, far-right forces are pushing for more closed borders, and a model where the responsibility is placed on third countries - external to the EU.

The most visible part of this shift is the concept of 'regional disembarkation platforms' to be set up in third countries (and possibly in EU countries as well).

Besides the fact that all potential third countries have declared that they are unwilling to take part, it is hard to see how this in any way can be compatible with upholding international law.

Despite this, the European Commission has not only gone along with these proposals too willingly, it even presented its own variations of this 'externalisation' of refugee responsibilities.

However, what is even more worrying is the UNHCR's ambiguous stance throughout.

Even in the run up to the EU leaders' June summit, the Head of UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, sent a letter that signals a willingness to collaborate on setting up regional platforms.

Since then, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have published a joint paper outlining the parameters for setting up such platforms or centres.

In their outline, there are numerous conditionalities and cautious formulations, and their view is that disembarkation platforms should be set up in EU ports.

The devil is not in the details in this particular case.

All what people and policymakers maintain is that the UNHCR is behind this idea of externalising the responsibility for refugees. It is very unfortunate.

Whilst I believe that the UNHCR sincerely wants to find a pragmatic solution to the tragic situation at sea as member states break international law of the sea by closing down ports to rescue boats, regional platforms or third country centres are wrong.

The UNHCR must stand firm against externalising the responsibility to third countries at this highly critical moment for EU migration and refugee policies.

The number of documents in which the council and commission refer to the future EU programme on resettlement is concerning.

This is not in line with the trilogue negotiations so far, and contradicts the position of the European parliament.

This new scenario will require further work to ensure that the future EU framework does not outsource the responsibilities of external processing to third countries.

This system, already put in place by Australia, has subjected refugees to horrendous conditions and widespread human rights abuses.

It has been denounced by UNHCR and other human rights organisations across the world. Put simply, it is a system that none of us can sanction.

Europe was not built on closed borders, but on the contrary, on ever more human mobility.

More legal pathways are thus necessary. Most importantly, the right to seek protection upon arrival on EU territories must be ensured.

Instead of wasting valuable time on externalising migration and refugee policies, we must endeavour to find a sustainable intra-European solution where we respect migrants, uphold human rights and the right to asylum and focus our resources on reception.

Malin Bjork is an MEP with the Swedish Left Party and the European United Left–Nordic Green Left, and rapporteur for the European Parliament on the proposal for an EU resettlement program

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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