May 23. 2024. 7:08

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Migration Pact ‘comes at expense of human rights’, Amnesty International warns

The Asylum and Migration Pact adopted by the European Parliament on Wednesday (10 April) will “weaken the right to asylum” and enshrine in law an ailing approach to migration policy, Eve Geddie, head of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, told Euractiv in an interview.

The pact, a set of nine interdependent files, is the outcome of almost 10 years of debates and negotiations at the EU level. In effect, it revamps the bloc’s migration policy, streamlines asylum-granting procedures, reinforces border security, and establishes a new ‘solidarity’ mechanism among member states.

Wednesday’s vote was preceded by a last-minute wind of panic the pact would fall through, and party leaders were rallying troops until the last moment so numbers would add up.

Its long-awaited adoption was marked by total silence in the plenary. At the end of such a long legislative road, MEPs tend to clap and hug each other, but there was none of that this time around.

Despite the official tweets celebrating the outcome, the final agreement was to no one’s liking.

Socialists wanted a more human-led approach, while the centre-right looked for more restrictive measures.

Both groups eventually voted in favour – bar a few rebels – alongside the centrist Renew Europe group. This was driven by the argument that the EU had better act now than wait for a more right-leaning Parliament after June’s elections, where a surge in right-wing votes is expected.

EU’s historic migration pact passes amidst divisions and far-right fears

Despite a nerve-wreaking buildup leading up to the vote on Wednesday (10 April) afternoon, and the final agreement to no one’s liking, the EU’s asylum and migration pact ultimately passed with a thin majority on certain parts of the package.

Countries opting out of asylum obligations

It’s no good for NGOs either: “Ultimately, it’s going to weaken the right to asylum,” Amnesty International’s Geddie told Euractiv.

The pact was the opportunity to take a more human-centred approach to EU migration policy, she said, “but what we have instead is a set of policies which are really going to increase people’s suffering at every step of their [migration] journey”.

She was most concerned about some of the pact’s key measures, including a new ‘solidarity’ mechanism – whose architecture would enable frontline EU countries experiencing ‘migration pressures’ to require the relocation of migrants to other EU members.

Failing that, these other EU countries will be bound to provide first-arrival countries with extra cash, material assistance such as surveillance tools, and personnel.

“This means member states can opt out of their right to uphold asylum,” Geddie said.

She was just as critical of a new ‘filtering’ mechanism, via which asylum-seekers would be kept in detention centres on EU borders for a maximum of seven days while their asylum claims are being assessed – a time during which they would legally not be deemed to be on EU territory.

“We’ve created a legal fiction of non-entry,” she claimed and warned that this will only encourage border countries to resort to violent means to keep asylum-seekers at bay.

Just a year ago, Lithuania legalised migrant pushbacks – a practice that remains illegal in the rest of the EU. This, Geddie argued, means border detention sites are being closed off to NGOs and journalists, and displaced people reaching EU borders “are being pushed back violently into the forest, and even dying in subzero temperatures”.

In her view, the Asylum and Migration Pact enshrines these practices – even though evidence shows such policies have so far been of little to no effect in lowering the number of asylum seekers reaching the EU.

In 2023, 1.1 million asylum claims were lodged, according to the EU Agency for Asylum – a 17% increase from the year before.

Von der Leyen to seek third-country migration deals during Hungary’s EU Council presidency

The much-controversial steady deployment of partnerships with countries of origin and transit is next in the EU leaders’ plan to reduce migration influxes, now that the European Parliament has ratified a large-scale reform on how the bloc will deal with migrants internally.

What’s gone wrong, and what could go wrong still

To Eve Geddie, EU leaders have fallen foul of a “reductive conversation” on the realities of migration.

“The migration debate at the EU and national levels is dominated by a security, border-control, and policing narrative. But if you look at the local level, you see far more progressive policy-making, and community-based solutions”.

For her, it is the absence of local voices in the EU that skews the debate and makes it so “toxic”: “I don’t see how you win against anti-migration narrative by codifying anti-migration narratives [in EU law]”.

Geddie instead voiced hope the EU would take a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to migration – looking not just at the policing aspects, but also cultural, diplomatic, and economic.

“One of the biggest drivers of irregularity is the labour demand we have in Europe” she said, pointing out that this had not been addressed in the pact.

The same goes for search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea, “which the Commission failed to look at”.

And she is worried about the future, too.

The EU is looking to introduce more bilateral deals with third-countries like Tunisia and Libya to send people that cannot claim asylum back, or stop them from getting to Europe in the first place, against lump sums of cash.

“Where is that money going?” Geddie asked, hinting to a UN fact-finding mission which found last year that EU money sent to Libyan forces could have contributed to crimes against humanity committed there.

She is also wary of the EU’s willingness to strike deals with nefarious political leaders, who could use displaced people as a bargaining chip for more EU investments.

“The Commission and member states have decided they must act so strongly against [migrant] instrumentalisation – but actually put themselves at risk of being instrumentalised themselves,” she concluded.

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