Committee on Foreign Affairs
Hide-and-seek along Europe’s borders: As migrants keep fleeing inhumane situations to seek refuge in the EU, borders crossing increased by 70% in 2021. In light of the European Commission’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, how can the EU provide better migration policies by effective solidarity and deepening international partnerships while keeping in mind the concerns of its Member States?
Micaela Lai (Chairperson, IT)
On the 23rd of September 2020, the European Commission presented a new Pact on Migration and Asylum whose aim is to improve migration policies to allow people to be protected and safe during migrations across European countries. This new Pact was meant to be a solution to the migration problem that has concerned Europe for many years now; however, the reality is that in 2021, more than 130 000 people, coming mostly from the Middle East and the African continent, walked for years to reach European countries where they only found rejection and torture.
Despite the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, which has reduced the flow of people across the external borders, there are still many negative aspects to this migration phenomenon: overcrowded reception facilities at the EU’s external borders, illegal border practises that violate fundamental rights, and persistent backlogs in processing applications for international protection are just a few examples that illustrate the severity of the situation.
Migration is a complex issue with many facets that have to be considered together to gain a broader picture of the matter and understand its significance. It is important to keep in mind that among those migrants, there are also children and teenagers who have often fled wars, violence, and strained living conditions in search of a better life.
Several actors play a fundamental role in this matter.
The first ones are the Member States of the EU, although not all of them perform their responsibilities and duties equally: they are expected to take care of receiving migrants and guaranteeing them security and reception, respect the new Pact, and, above all, take into account the fundamental rights declared in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Secondly, Frontex, the European Border and Coast Agency: its aim is to work together with the Member States to ensure safe external borders (both sea and land), controls, and security around Europe.
The European Commission proposes legislation such as the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, and overlooks its implementation. Together with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), it oversees the application of EU law across the Union and ensures the compliance of Member States.
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) develops and organises training programmes for police services and other law enforcement officials in the EU. CEPOL works closely together with Eurojust, an agency that works to support judicial coordination and cooperation between national authorities in combatting terrorism and serious organised crime affecting more than one EU country. The two agencies are extremely functional in limiting, if not permanently eliminating, the ill-treatment that migrants suffer on a daily basis when they arrive at European borders.
Europol supports EU law enforcement agencies in fighting large-scale criminal activities such as terrorism, fraud, and drug trafficking. Europol also plays a vital role in border control.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) maintains international peace and security along the external borders and in destination countries, works to develop friendly relationships between European and foreign nations, and promotes better living and travelling standards for asylum seekers.
Past Actions Taken
- 1951: UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: it provided lasting contributions to the international legal system on refugee rights, including a single universal definition of the term “refugee” as well as the core principles of non-discrimination and non-penalization.
- 1999: establishment of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS): a legal and policy framework created to ensure that those seeking international protection in the EU face harmonised and uniform requirements. CEAS emphasises a shared responsibility to handle international protection applicants with dignity, ensuring equal treatment and following similar procedures for evaluating applications.
- 2016: Revision of the Dublin III Regulation: a reform of the Dublin Convention established in 1990 that determines the country responsible for processing each asylum claim. In 2017, the Regulation developed further, touching upon themes of incentivisation of asylum applicants to avoid absconding, relocations, and migrant child custody.
- 2016: Reform of the Common European Asylum System: provides an incentive for asylum seekers to apply for asylum in Member States where asylum is most likely to be granted. To ensure its success, the Reform specifically focused on consistent rules to grant refugee status across all Member States, common standards on reception conditions and partnerships and cooperation with non-EU countries.
- 2020: the new Pact on Migration and Asylum can be seen as an expansion of the previous Reform of the CEAS: its aim is to establish procedures that are more efficient and effective throughout the asylum and migration system, with a special focus on rebuilding trust between Member States and repairing confidence in the capacity of the EU to manage migration.
Present: Existing Issues
Europe has been dealing with the most serious migration problem since World War II in recent years. In 2015, there were 1.25 million first-time asylum seekers in the EU: by 2019, that number had reduced to 612 700. The total number of irregular border crossings into the EU fell to 141 700 in 2019, the lowest number in six years and 92% lower than the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015. This extraordinary influx of asylum seekers and irregular migrants into the EU necessitated more border security measures and reforms, as well as a more equitable sharing of responsibility and solidarity among EU countries. This is the reason why the CEAS was reformed in 2016 and why the new Pact on Migration and Asylum was created. However, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem, diminishing the impact of the several Reforms implemented in the years beforehand.
The most pressing issues are mainly social: firstly, the brutal treatment that migrants face when they reach the European borders, together with the pushbacks, result in stalemate situations where the migrants are caught between borders. Secondly, already underfunded asylum shelters are often overcrowded, worsening the living conditions.
One of the worst examples of this mistreatment is the migrant camp in Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos. The migrants face threats of murder and everpresent children and women abuse. Moreover, although Moria camp has the capacity to accommodate around 3000 people, it is severely overcrowded, which results in crammed and unhygienic living conditions, without the possibility of following COVID-19 pandemic regulation.
On September 8, 2020, a fire broke out in Moria, destroying almost the entire refugee camp. It is unclear how exactly the fire started, but the Greek migration minister believed it was the migrants’ fault as many were against the imposed quarantine. Apart from that, the government was tasked with finding new accommodation for more than 12 000 people who were temporarily housed in tents by the sea, but even today, after more than a year, have not been relocated.
Another issue are the tensions between Greece and Turkey: since Greece is one of the EU’s top entry points for migrants and Turkey is the most transitory country for people coming from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the two governments signed an agreement in 2016 which required asylum seekers who travelled by sea from the Turkish coast to stay on the Turkish islands while their claims were reviewed. However, in 2020, Turkey declared to be no longer available to hold refugees and prompted hundreds of them to walk towards the Greek border, causing the previously achieved equilibrium to collapse.
The problems do not lie only at the external borders of the Union: Hungary has been highly criticised for its aggressive policies for dealing with migrants, such as the use of attack dogs, strip searches in freezing temperatures, or detaining migrants in shipping containers until their cases are heard. This is because Hungary is refusing to participate in the binding EU agreement that requires Member States to relocate asylum seekers equitably across the European Union, since they are considered “potential terrorists” and “intruders”. This is a clear demonstration that the solutions exist but they are not respected by every European country, lacking cooperation and, above all, humanity.
Future: Challenges Ahead
Migration and integration will be a critical challenge for Europe as a whole in the coming years. The potential scenarios are numerous. As seen from the past CEAS interventions and the current Pact on Migration and Asylum, success is not guaranteed. However, there is hope for improvement: the Pact has only been in force for a relatively short period of time, and destabilising events such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the conflict in Afghanistan have compromised the stability of the world.
What the EU is willing to achieve is a real and strong European border and coast guard. The future goals of the EU are the cooperation of Member States and EU agencies, more border controls around Europe, creation of a worldwide consciousness about the dynamics and consequences of migration and asylum, and overall, reaching the European sense of community and solidarity that should be mastered in this field as well. Through these goals, the EU aims to ensure safety and security for all migrants who face daily hardships during their journeys and undermine the strength of the EU’s values: human dignity, freedom and equality.
To understand more about this truly important topic, have a further reading at this very detailed document that explains the current situation along the main migration routes, analysing country by country and giving a wider view of the issue.