Migration and Asylum – How to find a compromise?
On 23 September 2020, the European Commission released a draft Migration and Asylum Pact. This Pact is intended to have some bits and pieces for every member state as a starting point for negotiations. Can you use this as a starting point for engaging your own government to make sure the compromise has the individual at the centre, rather than mere statistics?
The proposed Migration and Asylum Pact introduced a pre-screening phase upon arrival on European territory, and ‘solidarity à la carte’, including return sponsorship. No member state will be obliged to relocate refugees but they will all have to contribute in one way or another.
The pre-screening phase should determine whether the new arrival has a genuine ground for claiming asylum or whether he or she should be considered an economic migrant. The applications of those suspected to be economic migrants will be processed in a speedy procedure at the border while those who might be entitled to refugee protection will undergo more serious scrutiny and might be relocated to another member state. The aim to separate refugees from economic migrants is not unreasonable. We don’t want the asylum system to be clogged up by people who are not entitled to international protection. But to make that distinction in 5-10 days, is quite ambitious to say the least. In addition, this approach is obvious, but it has already been tried and has failed. In hotspots like Lesbos and the overwhelmed camps like Moria, the aim of processing asylum seekers quickly proved impossible. Many people were held for an indefinite period of time under inhumane conditions.
Solidarity has been one of the founding principles of the European Union. This principle should undergird any Common European Asylum System as well. In practice, however, frontier states like Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus have been receiving and processing most migrants. As, for a variety of reasons not all EU member states are willing to relocate refugees, the Commission proposes a more flexible approach to solidarity. Instead of welcoming refugees, member states can also share the burden by sponsoring refugee facilities, capacity, and also by sponsoring the return of rejected migrants. Of course, an effective asylum policy cannot do without an effective return policy but the current focus on returns will not save the asylum system. All member states agree that migrants who had their application rejected should be returned to their country of origin. But EU practice over the last few years has taught us that returning migrants is not that straightforward, for example because the country of origin cannot be established, or because home countries refuse to take their citizens back. The creation of a EU returns coordinator will not change that.
These are just two of the many practical and ethical concerns about the proposed Migration and Asylum Pact. At the same time, it is obvious that the EU needs a common and coherent asylum policy. A failure to agree on a Migration and Asylum Pact will come at a huge price for the European Union, but even more so for the migrants and refugees.
Any solution starts with realising that migrants are not statistics but human beings like you and me, created in the image of God. Many of the migrants fled to Europe for shelter and protection. They call for our compassion and rightly so. But we cannot leave it to the frontier states to welcome these people. We need a European answer. If solidarity within the EU is to have any meaning, then this answer must include every member state.
In the end, it is up to all EU member states to define a Common European Asylum System that is humane, fair, and transparent, based on justice, compassion and solidarity. Therefore, in addition to a clear voice in Brussels, we should also talk to our own governments to make sure they will come to Brussels with the right priorities, keeping in mind that this it is not just about the economy this time, but about people.
by Arie de Pater