9th Dec 2023


EU's new migration pact is normalisation of racial profiling

  • Article 5 of the regulation makes a significant leap: police and border authorities would be able to force people who cannot prove regular entry to submit to screening not just at the border, but anywhere within an EU country (Photo: Sara Prestianni)
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EU legislators are just weeks away from enabling racial profiling and unlawful de facto detention across Europe's external-border member states.

The New Pact on Migration has been hailed as a solution to long-running tensions on migration.

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In fact, its measures are worsening existing problems and creating new ones.

Under the Screening Regulation — a key file in the pact — all new arrivals would undergo a five-day screening procedure to weed out those with unfounded claims.

The EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centres on the Greek islands, despite a litany of failures and violations of people's rights, are a model of the envisioned border facilities for screening.

Article 5 of the regulation makes a significant leap: police and border authorities would be able to force people who cannot prove regular entry to submit to screening not just at the border, but anywhere within an EU country. In practice, this means targeting anyone who 'looks like a migrant' — namely, racialised communities.

Across Europe, police already disproportionately stop and search young, ethnic minority men and Muslims. This can lead to extreme consequences, such as when two Nigerian table tennis players were profiled by Croatian police, assumed to be irregular migrants, and forced into Bosnia.

In 2020, the EU Commission laid out an EU Anti Racism Action Plan pledging to tackle such discrimination.

Yet under the new screening regulation, such operations are now encouraged. It is difficult to see how this fits in with the commission's commitments under the plan, or amounts to anything other than en-masse ethnic profiling of people from minority groups.

The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) and the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) have released a statement endorsed by 81 civil society organisations, calling on co-legislators to delete Article 5 from the Regulation and condemn the proliferation of arbitrary and discriminatory police checks.

With fears of a rightward shift in the coming 2024 European parliamentary elections, the current Spanish presidency of the European Council is seeking to close political agreements on the New Pact by Christmas.

But such haste risks safeguards being overlooked, and dangerous provisions being included, in the interests of expediency.

Greek tragedy

Greece provides a painful example of what in-territory screening procedures look like in practice.

On the mainland, mandatory reception and identification procedures have existed since September 2022, resulting in people being arbitrarily detained and denied access to basic asylum rights.

Asylum seekers in Greece who cannot prove their identity and nationality with a document issued by a Greek public authority must present themselves at a Reception and Identification Centre. Once inside, they are locked in for a maximum of 25 days.

New research published on Thursday (16 November) by Mobile Info Team (MIT) and Refugee Legal Support (RLS) reveals serious deficiencies, including unlawful de facto detention, a lack of medical support and appropriate assessments for the most vulnerable cases, and chronic delays in the processing of applications.

The findings of the report are damning, with 50 percent of respondents being detained for two weeks simply for the 'crime' of asking for asylum, and 80 percent complaining of unhygienic conditions.

On top of this, 71 percent of interviewees did not undergo adequate vulnerability assessments meaning those with the most complex protection needs are at a high risk of being overlooked.

In one case, a 29-year-old single mother from Afghanistan awaited screening and registration for two months. It was only under legal pressure that she was able to flag her vulnerabilities to the authorities and leave the centre. She said: "It was a very insecure place for me, I never felt safe. If I stayed there without any support or my lawyer, I would have suffered every day. My mental health issues would have worsened, and I would have thought: 'This is the end of it'."

The Reception Conditions Directive maintains that a person cannot be detained simply on the grounds of seeking asylum, and the Council and commission continuously state that screening does not equal detention.

But the Greek example shows that screening centres are detention centres, and combined with Article 5 this raises the grim prospect of people being routinely targeted and locked up on the basis of race.

Greece, meanwhile, is also known for lethal pushbacks and unlawful deportations, with proven EU institutional collusion. Such breakdowns of natural justice should be learned from, not extended.

For years, supposed attempts to make European migration procedures more efficient have instead led to delays, a chronic lack of information, and unlawful and arbitrary imprisonment.

What we see under the screening regulation codifies a set of practices which haven't worked, and have caused people serious harm in the process, into EU law. This locks in risks, and blocks access to remedies.

And there is little time left to act. European legislators must act to defend due process and fundamental rights. Arbitrary policing of racialised communities and their subsequent unlawful detention and potential pushback, cannot become normalised and legalised in Europe.

Author bio

Hope Barker is the senior policy analyst for the NGO Border Violence Monitoring Network. (BVMN)


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

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