The New European Pact on Migration and Asylum - A Missed Opportunity?

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The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has released a report that paints a grim picture for the year 2023 as the deadliest year for migrants navigating the Mediterranean route since 2018. Despite the risks involved, a sizable number of individuals still attempt to reach Europe, but many do not survive the journey. Since the start of 2023, at least 2,480 migrants have either died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea, which surpasses the total figure for all of 2022. 

This year, the EU has adopted policies to tighten its borders and facilitate swift deportation of migrants who managed to bypass border controls. These measures are intended to reduce the inflow of irregular migrants. 

Recently, EU Member States celebrated the European Pact on Migration and Asylum as a success. However, some human rights organizations and advocates for migrants' welfare believe the pact missed an opportunity to create a balanced and fair agreement that respects human rights. 

The roots of this agreement go back to the 2015 crisis, triggered by the massive influx of Syrian refugees amid the civil war. Despite the attempt to address this crisis through a quota system, it failed, leading to the controversial EU-Turkey agreement. This agreement was not only inappropriately criticized for externalizing borders, but also showed the gaps in the European Asylum system and highlighted the need for a common, effective and compassionate approach. 

Unfortunately, the new pact focuses more on strengthening external border control, including extending it to 'safe' third countries with questionable human rights records. It would be wise for the EU to approach these countries, such as Libya, with caution. The UK's attempt to partner with Rwanda was rightfully condemned by British courts, highlighting the dangers of outsourcing to unsafe territories.  

The UK and Rwanda’s recent agreement seems incompatible with the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the UK has signed. This Convention allows refugees to seek asylum in any country they choose. By not sharing responsibility and undermining international law, the UK’s decision to send refugees to Rwanda is not only ineffective but also costly. Furthermore, rejecting vulnerable people instead of protecting them by helping them reunite with their families and resettle in a safe country would have serious moral implications. 

The concept of 'compulsory solidarity' with border countries is not as rigid as it sounds. It is a flexible and à la carte arrangement that allows states to either welcome migrants or pay a fee for each rejection. This commodification of human lives is a moral challenge that conflicts with the enlightened values that Europe claims to uphold - and poses a potentially dangerous scenario if far-right and populist parties continue to rise in Europe. 

Moreover, the pact has significantly tightened the conditions for asylum seekers, introducing a common procedure at the border with limited guarantees and discriminatory criteria based on their country of origin. The risk of prolonged detention until authorization to enter the EU is also a major concern, creating a 'legal fiction of non-entry'.

While the agreement aims to ensure a more equitable distribution of migrant management responsibilities, concerns that it could undermine the right to asylum are warranted. The current system places an overwhelming burden on entry countries, causing their reception systems to collapse. Some Member States' refusal to accept their share of asylum seekers continues to be a significant obstacle that must be addressed. 

Albeit not flawless, the pact is considered a positive move towards a much-needed unified policy. Failing to reach an agreement at all would only benefit far-right parties capitalizing on the already tense and heartbreaking situation. Thus, even with its imperfections, this agreement is seen as a beacon of hope in an otherwise harrowing situation, especially after the disappointing outcome of the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism. This ad-hoc system aims to address the migration challenges faced by EU’s Mediterranean Member States through refugee relocation among the other Member States or financial contributions. 

EU authorities must carefully evaluate the new mechanism's results before the EP elections to prevent increased suffering for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, as warned by Amnesty International.

As we face the migration crisis, we must work towards creating a safe and legal way for refugees to reach Europe borders by land and sea, and always remember that nobody puts their children in a boat unless the sea is safer than the land. 

We have a moral and political obligation to create a safe and legal way for refugees to reach Europe, with all the legal guarantees that they have unjustly been deprived of. By doing so, we will be able to recognize the numerous economic and social benefits of migration. When we open our borders, we promote trade flows of the host economy, boost total imports, and increase productivity. When we allow individuals from other countries to enter our national workforce, an increase in the labour supply inevitably follows. 

We must prioritize a humane, united, and compassionate response to one of the most significant refugee crises since World War II. The heart-wrenching images of lifeless bodies along the Mediterranean coasts only underscore the urgency of restoring a sense of control and acknowledging our mistakes. We must learn from them to build a more empathetic, and stronger Europe.




The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) alone. These views do not necessarily reflect those of LYMEC.


Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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March 15 2024

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