Geneva - The European Union’s “migration pact” is merely a continuation and escalation of policies emphasising tougher controls and expedited deportations of asylum seekers, and has a dangerous potential to erode fundamental rights and protections.This myopic approach, coupled with the pursuit of containment agreements with third countries, risks not only failing to address the root causes of migration but also exacerbating human suffering and instability. As the EU moves forward with this contentious reform, it must confront the moral imperative of protecting vulnerable populations while ensuring respect for human rights both within its borders and beyond.

When the EU’s migration pact was first unveiled nearly four years ago, in September 2020, it was met with a growing chorus of dissent from both the left and the right, as the migration topic across the political spectrum has been a recurring source of tension and competition since the EU’s 2015-2016 migration crisis.

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum envisions several pieces of legislation and collective rules to manage the reception, asylum procedures, and relocation of arriving asylum seekers, with the aim to treat them uniformly across Europe—but not more fairly.

The proposal by the European Commission is hundreds of pages long and references a myriad of complex issues, such as data privacy, relocations, adequate capacity of reception centres, unaccompanied minors’ rights, financial contributions, detention periods, national security, and “safe country” concepts.Ultimately, however, it offers the same old solution: tougher controls, faster procedures, and quicker deportations.

“This is a historic day,” declared Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament’s president, on 10 April, after Parliament endorsed thecompromise. Dozens of activists in the chamber’s public gallery threw paper planes at the sitting MEPs, chanting “This pact kills, vote no.”

Though the pieces of legislation were passed by a small margin—on average, 300 votes in favour and 270 against—such a result allows mainstream parties to flaunt the reform in their campaign for June’s EU Parliament elections.

The five key proposals contained in the New Pact and approved by MEPs are:

1. The Screening Regulation envisions a pre-entry procedure to collect information such as nationality, age, fingerprints, and facial images of everyone, including children as young as six(previously, the lowest age required to submit this data was 14). Screening can be carried out at any adequate location within the territory designated by each EU country.

2. The amended Eurodac Regulation updates the database storing biometric evidence collected during the screening process to prevent the same person from filing multiple claims.

3. The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR) sets a fast-tracked border procedure, meant to last a maximum of 12 weeks, and return procedures directly after screening for migrants who allegedly pose a security threat, present “misleading information”, or come from countries with lower recognition rates. These people will not be allowed to enter the country’s territory despite being physically present, but will be kept in closed facilities on the border, creating what is known as a “legal fiction of non-entry” andincreasing the risk that they will be denied access to fundamental rights and basic services. There is a possibility of subjecting even unaccompanied minors to border procedures “in case they present a security risk”, and the safe country concepts for returning migrants is still vague, but in the longer term, there should be a convergence towards an EU list of safe third countries and safe countries of origin.

4. The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR) establishes a system of “mandatory solidarity”that will offer Member States three options to help manage migration flows: relocations, financial contributions, oroperational support. As relocations are politically unpopular, the new mechanism is unlikely to lead to a fairer distribution and reduced migratory pressure for both migrants and frontline countries. Crucially, the reform does not change the problematic “Dublin principle” casting the responsibility for an asylum application on the person’s first country of arrival, usually frontline and southern EU Member States.

5. The Crisis Regulation foresees exceptional rules that will be triggered when the bloc’s asylum system is broadly threatened by a sudden and massive arrival of refugees or by a situation of force majeure. In these circumstances, national authorities will be allowed to apply tougher measures, including longer periods of detention and fewer human rightssafeguards. Member States will also be able to opt out of key safeguards if they claim even vaguely that a third country is pushing people to their borders (the so-called “instrumentalisation of migration”), as happened in 2021 with Belarus.

For now, this politically explosive issue still needs the final green light from Member States, and some opposition is guaranteed, as Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have already declared their objection to the New Pact. Once adopted by the Council, the laws will then take two years to enter into full force.

“The New Pact will deny asylum seekers from certain countries a fair and full assessment,” said Michela Pugliese, Migration and Asylum Researcher at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, “raising the odds for human rights violations, lack of regard for hidden vulnerabilities, administrative detention, and deportation, even if in the end it still depends on the country of origin of the person whether to accept or turn down a request of return.

“The Pact looks at the internal European framework on migration—what happens once an asylum seeker reaches the EU—while the external dimension is completely overlooked, shielded by tailored-made border externalisation. It is left to ad hoc, often bilateral, agreements with third countries like Türkiye, Libya, Tunisia, Albania, Mauritania and Egypt, to prevent departures from happening in the first place, at all costs.”

Added Pugliese, “The final component of the EU’s method on migration and asylum is always money in exchange of containment; we see it both internally with the so-called ‘mandatory solidarity’ and externally. This has not only proven to be useless for decreasing departures, or secondary movements within the EU, and disastrous for people’s lives, but also poses a threat of destabilisation for the third countries concerned.”

The reform comes hand in hand with growing efforts to shift responsibility for refugee protection and border control to thirdcountries, as evidenced by recent deals with Tunisia, Egypt, and Mauritania, threatening to physically trap people in need in States where their human rights will be in even greater danger.

Earlier articles on the EU migration pact:

1st article: https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/3878/EU%E2%80%99s-new-migration-and-asylum-pact-is-more-about-deterrence-and-deportation-than-compassion

2nd article: https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/5684/Fortress-Europe%E2%80%99s-new-migration-pact:-How-Member-States-are-working-to-evade-their-legal-obligations