Border centres and 'safe' states: EU gives go-ahead to major asylum changes

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Border centres and 'safe' states: EU gives go-ahead to major asylum changes
A dinghy with 15 Afghan refugees, 5 children, 3 women and 7 men, approaches the Greek island of Lesbos. The EU will vote on landmark asylum reform this week. Photo: Ris Messinis / AFP

The EU on Tuesday gave the final green light to a landmark overhaul of its migration and asylum policies that will see hardened borders and responsibility shared among member states.


A majority of European Union countries backed the reform's 10 pieces of legislation, ensuring its passage despite opposition from Hungary and Poland.

The overhaul comes into effect from 2026.

"These new rules will make the European asylum system more effective and increase solidarity between member states," said Belgium's asylum and migration minister Nicole de Moor, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the reform still helps people fleeing persecution, while making "clear that those who do not need this protection cannot come to Germany or must leave Germany much more quickly".

In April MEPs in the European Parliament's main political groups overcame opposition from far-right and far-left parties to pass the migration and asylum pact -- enshrining a difficult overhaul nearly a decade in the making.

At the time European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the vote, saying it will "secure European borders... while ensuring the protection of the fundamental rights" of migrants.

"We must be the ones to decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances, and not the smugglers and traffickers," she said.

'Solidarity mechanism'

The adoption comes a month ahead of EU elections expected to see a surge by far-right parties campaigning on the need to crack down on irregular migration.

Poland and Hungary remain fiercely against the changes, mainly because of a new bloc-wide "solidarity mechanism" under which they must either take in thousands of asylum seekers or pay the nations that do.

After the MEP's vote in April Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban derided the reform as "another nail in the coffin of the European Union".

His anti-immigration government reaffirmed Hungary would not be taking in any asylum-seekers.


Border centres

For very different reasons, migrant charities have also slammed the pact, which includes building border centres to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside "safe" countries.

Amnesty International has previously said the EU was "shamefully" backing a deal "they know will lead to greater human suffering" while the Red Cross federation urged member states "to guarantee humane conditions for asylum seekers and migrants affected".

One measure particularly criticised by migrant charities is the sending of asylum-seekers to countries outside the EU deemed "safe", if the migrant has sufficient ties to that country.


The pact's measures are due to come into force in 2026, after the European Commission first sets out how it would be implemented.

New border centres would hold irregular migrants while their asylum requests are vetted. And deportations of those deemed inadmissible would be sped up.

The pact also requires EU countries to take in thousands of asylum-seekers from "frontline" states such as Italy and Greece, or -- if they refuse -- to provide money or other resources to the under-pressure nations.

Push to go further?

In parallel with the sweeping reforms, the EU is stepping up its deals with countries of transit and origin aimed at curbing the number of arrivals.

In recent months, that has seen agreements inked with Tunisia, Mauritania and Egypt.

Italy has also struck its own accord with Albania to send migrants rescued in Italian waters to the country while their asylum requests are treated.

Furthermore, a group of countries spearheaded by Denmark and the Czech Republic are preparing to send a letter pushing for the transfer of migrants picked up at sea to countries outside the EU.

These new migration and asylum pact proposals will fall to the next EU executive which will take office after the European elections.

But Camille Le Coz, an expert from the Migration Policy Institute Europe, said that there were "many questions" about how any such initiatives could work.

Under EU law, immigrants can only be sent to a country outside the bloc where they could have applied for asylum, provided they have a sufficient link with that country.

That rules out -- for now -- any programmes such as the United Kingdom's deal with Rwanda to send arrivals to the African country.

Le Coz said that it still needs "to be clarified" how proposals for any EU outsourcing deals would work as well as "who the European authorities are working with and which third countries are likely to accept".

Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible. That has put southern frontline states under pressure and fuelled far-right opposition.

Far right opposition

As well as Orban, other far-right lawmakers also opposed the passage of the 10 laws making up the pact as insufficient to stop irregular migrants they accuse of spreading insecurity and threatening to "submerge" European identity.

Marine Le Pen, the figurehead of France's far-right National Rally, has complained the changes would give "legal impunity to NGOs complicit with smugglers".

She and her party's leader who sits in the European Parliament, Jordan Bardella, said they would seek to overturn the reform after EU elections in June.


Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2024/05/12 18:40
Asylum, created after WW2, was never meant to be a scam allowing migrants to pick whichever country they want to and move there. If anything, each continent or region should take care of their own refugees, not all of them coming to Europe from countries thousands of miles away.
ML 2024/04/11 12:19
It's about time we get sensible migration reform! Seeking asylum should involve finding the closest safe country, not one's country of choice.
Paul Rivas 2024/04/08 14:09
So at last they might do something , I doubt it though as they are plain useless. A bit late also.

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