investigation Analysis Migrants trapped at the gates of the EU | Pact on Migration

Fortress Europe increasingly stingy on asylum

The tightening of asylum conditions in the European Union, confirmed by the recent crisis between Poland and Belarus, as well as the ups and downs of the Pact on Migration, suggest a policy that is increasingly restrictive and far removed from the principles the EU is supposed to defend. This is the last part of our series on migrants stuck at the gates of Europe.

Published on 4 January 2022 at 13:15

In June 2015, the exhibition "Moving beyond borders" opened in Brussels. Created by the Migreurop network and the artist collective Etrange miroir, it plunged audiences into the hell of the "irregular" migration route, showing the obstacles that EU governments and institutions set at every stage of the journey. The worst future scenario was one where the EU would no longer need to control its external borders, thanks to having sealed off entire regions in the south, trapping the inhabitants.

Events of the last six years confirm that this is the goal toward which European migration and asylum policy is moving. Nevertheless, the actualisation of this goal is still far from a reality. The EU’s external borders are still the main stage where the violence of these policies is unleashed, and where the voices of refugees and solidarity find expression. The three reports in this series - from the Green Line in Cyprus, the border between Belarus and Poland, and Sarajevo - provide powerful testimony.

👉All the articles from this investigation

On 1 December 2021, referring to emergency measures allowing Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to derogate from the right of asylum, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that "making progress now on the Pact on Migration and Asylum is essential". This package of proposals, presented in September 2020, was intended to relaunch discussions on reforming the Common European Asylum System, which have stalled due to divisions between member states, especially over the issue of the distribution of asylum seekers. If these proposals were approved and implemented as they stand, they would accelerate already familiar trends, including the expansion of accelerated asylum procedures at borders, increasing pressure on frontline countries, the unravelling of asylum seekers' rights, and the criminalisation of solidarity.

Unsurprisingly, the Pact has made little progress since its launch. Successive EU Council presidencies - German, Portuguese and Slovenian - had to face the facts: progress cannot be made on all the issues at once. It was therefore decided to break up the Pact and focus on specific proposals. Despite this new approach, after more than two years no proposal has yet been validated. Only the regulation establishing the European Asylum Agency (EAA), which will replace the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), has been adopted, a proposal put forward by the Commission in 2016 and re-launched under the Pact.

Knowing the role played by EASO in the implementation of the disastrous hotspot approach in Greece and Italy, it is questionable whether this new agency with an enhanced mandate will actually work in the interests of asylum seekers. The EU Council's decision to postpone the start of the EASO's supervisory functions in relation to asylum enforcement suggests the contrary.

“Placing migration and asylum issues in the field of justice and home affairs was a serious distortion.”

Yasha Maccanico, researcher at Statewatch.

Then there was the recent presentation by the European Parliament rapporteurs of two draft regulations, one on asylum procedures and the other on asylum and migration management. Catherine Woollard, Director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), did not mince her words when commenting on these two texts. The first draft regulation "leaves the Commission's complex and unworkable proposal intact". As for the second, "the rapporteur has managed to make a bad proposal even worse, since the proposed amendments would reduce protection standards and increase the responsibility of countries at the external borders".

Yasha Maccanico, a researcher with the NGO Statewatch, has been analysing European migration and asylum policies for over twenty years. According to Maccanico, the Pact marks the latest step in a trend that began in 1999, at the Tampere summit. "Placing migration and asylum issues in the field of justice and home affairs was a serious distortion”, says Maccanico. “In the next phase, with the anti-terrorism emergency, this link was further strengthened.

Then, with the Lisbon Treaty coming into force in 2009, the situation improved slightly. The Commission, while yielding on many points, still seemed to see itself as the guarantor of the Charter of Fundamental Rights”. Between 2014 and 2015 the trend reversed, with the new migration portfolio given to Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, the controversial Fabrice Leggeri made head of Frontex, and the launch of the European Agenda on Migration, the predecessor of the Pact.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

Among the more troubling aspects of this trend, Maccanico mentions "the redefinition of solidarity", as member states assisting each other in the "mistreatment of migrants"; the "reinforcement of the idea that anyone who travels without the authorisation of member states is responsible for anything that happens to them"; the increasing reliance on diplomatic and military channels for outsourcing, "which allows more information to be kept secret".

“The European Union has been an extremely sophisticated effort to create a new form of state”, says Maccanico. “But it was decided to sacrifice this effort, as well as the respect for human rights, in the name of migration policy which in fact has more to do with affirming a new authoritarianism than with migration itself”.

Not every European can recognise themselves in this “ostentatiously militaristic” Europe, where the walls are multiplying and could, according to President of European Council Charles Michel, soon be financed by European funds (a marginal development, since the Commission has always been willing to “pay for anything that fortifies a border”, as the Transnational Institute reminds us ). “After five years of attacks against NGOs running sea rescue operations, there are always new ones appearing”, says Maccanico. “Anyone touched by this reality can no longer ignore it. There is another European identity that resists”.

In association with the Evens Foundation

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

On the same topic