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  • Gabriel Armstong

EU's Migration Overhaul Struggles to Find Common Ground

"But despite being voted through - albeit narrowly - the discourse surrounding these reforms speaks more than ever to a Europe divided, not united."

Last week, the European Parliament passed the Pact on Migration and Asylum, initiating a major change to the way that the EU handles irregular migrants and asylum seekers. But despite being voted through - albeit narrowly - the discourse surrounding these reforms speaks more than ever to a Europe divided, not united. 

Some of the headline issues that the reforms address are the unfair pressure that “frontline” EU states are under, bearing the brunt of immigration. Non-border countries are now required either to take extra migrants or pay towards supporting systems of processing. This spreading out of the impact of migration was one of the goals of the pact, which has been in the works for over 8 years. In theory, the proposed solution should take the burden off countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece which historically have had numbers of migrants entering unmatched with other countries within the EU. 

However, the ability for countries to circumvent accepting more migrants by paying a fee raises doubts about the effectiveness of this measure. Poland, Hungary and Sweden have already shown support for opting out of the redistribution, which undermines the effectiveness outright. This comes as increasing pressure is mounted by the rising right in Europe for tighter borders and less migration. In many ways, this should be no surprise; given the economic difficulties that Europe has felt in the past years, the rise in rhetoric blaming outsiders follows a long historical trend. However, with migration on the rise, there are additional fears that immigration is spiralling out of control. The requirement to try to appease this growing section of the European voter base by the centre coalition of parties has thus watered down a critical measure for dealing with migration and asylum seekers, all the while not managing to actually appeal to politicians on the far right. 

Alongside this solidarity intuitive lies the even more politically salient issue of how to deal with irregular migration. The remedy agreed upon is a speeding up of the assessment process of migrants at the border and tougher screening, for example filtering individuals from non-asylum countries into an accelerated procedure. The hope is that these measures will act as a deterrent in some fashion to illegal immigrants, and speed up the process of deportation of those deemed to be illegitimate or unworthy of asylum. Other notable measures include the ability for some regulations to be suspended in a crisis - what this specifically means is of course vague - and the increase of detention centres with lower guarantees of safety. 

To no one’s surprise, these changes have been met with horror by leading NGOs and Human Rights groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International. In fact, Human Rights Watch have published an open letter with the signatures of 163 Civil Society Organisations, condemning the changes and emploreing the EUP to fight against the pact. The point, which the EU seemed to have deemed unimportant, is that such strict measures without adequate protection for human rights at detention centres lead to these rights being violated, and the deterrence supposed to accompany stricter controls is ineffective anyway. 

Most startling of all is the absolute failure to address the absence of safe and regular pathways for migrants to take, in light of 2023 being the deadliest year since 2015 for migration into Europe. This irresponsibility is a symptom of the inward-looking populism growing across the bloc. The concern is not for human life, but the day-to-day domestic troubles that politicians have tapped into and harnessed to steer the discontent towards policies of isolationism. While immigration may be a legitimate concern for voters, the EUP’s prioritisation of appeasing these concerns over the welfare of the immigrants, buckling under the pressure from the right, is a massive misstep.

The culmination of both prongs of the Pact is an issue that not only pleases no one, but in fact has the potential to be significantly harmful to those seeking asylum. It reflects poorly on the EU that such an unsatisfactory compromise was all that could be agreed upon, and further underscores the power of the growing spectre of the far right that is beginning to overshadow much of European policy-making. More than anything, the cracks both between and within European countries are shown in full light.

Image: Flickr | European Parliament



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