Amid the pandemic, European Union states are about to start negotiations about asylum policy reform in Europe, but concerns remain that the EU’s proposed “New Pact for Migration and Asylum” will serve as a backdoor to migrant relocations.
The European Commission is launching a PR blitz in countries where resistance to the pact remains strong, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, with Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas conducting a joint interview for Czech and Polish Radio on Thursday.
“The dispute over refugee quotas divided Europe four years ago. We want to try to unite it again,” said Schinas.
At the beginning of the interview, Schinas talked about why the European Commission is making a new attempt to reform asylum policy in the current uncertain times of the coronavirus epidemic, according to Czech news portal Irozhlas.
“Europe does not have a migration policy, and it is high time we stopped living in a house built only halfway,” he said, adding that EU officials visited all capitals and debated with MEPs for weeks to find a pragmatic approach to migration policy.
According to the new pact on migration and asylum, relocations on a voluntary basis will remain part of the European migration policy. However, there will be alternatives that would help ease the pressure on the system, such as return sponsorships, which amount to countries paying for deportations.
Despite EU assurances, opposition to the pact remains strong. France’s National Rally leader Marine Le Pen has warned that it will result in 60 million to 70 million more migrants on the continent and that it will be the “suicide of Europe”.
“The ‘Pact for Migration’ is deceptively humanist, anti-democratic, irreversible, destructive,” she wrote on Twitter.
A backdoor for migrant relocations?
With the new migrant pact proposal, states such as Czechia or Poland could choose to sponsor returns, i.e. organize the deportation of migrants without the right to asylum. A country sponsoring returns would then be asked to launch deportation operations on behalf of the EU within four months, Schinas said.
“A state that chooses this option will not be left alone. It will have the help of Frontex, which will become our new return agency. There will also be new return procedures and a coordinator always ready to assist,” Schinas explained.
Under the new plan, member state would finance, negotiate, and organize deportations at a distance, with the migrant waiting at the European Union’s external borders.
But there is a catch.
Schinas avoided the question of whether he expects problems in cases in which the country sponsoring the return cannot carry out the deportation. During the radio interview, Schinas only stated that he is optimistic and sees no reason why the proposed system should not work.
But the system for deportations simply does not work.
Under the new proposal, states have eight months to deport a migrant without a right to asylum. If a country such as the Czech Republic is unable to deport a migrant fast enough from a country such as Italy, it would have to move the migrant to its territory.
In fact, since 2008, 500,000 migrants per year were issued deportation orders, but EU countries manage to deport less than 40 percent of people who were supposed to be deported. That amounts to millions of migrants who were never deported despite a judge issuing an order.
With activist lawyers and NGOs known for their successful tactics to delay or halt deportations, it could result in countries like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic with potentially tens of thousands of migrants on their territory. Many migrants awaiting deportation also simply disappear. If they turn up again months after their deportation deadline, they would be relocated to the country that sponsored their deportation.
“The returns based on the new pact will be different. It will be a holistic coherent system. There is no such thing today. We cannot properly organize returns today because we have a system that does not allow it. Better said, there is no system. We have the opposite of a system. So if our proposal becomes law, everything will get connected,” Schinas defended the migration policy proposal.
Top officials in the Czech Republic, for example, see the pact differently.
“We primarily expect the pact to strengthen the protection of the external border, speed up the return of illegal migrants, and put pressure on neighboring states to cooperate better,” Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamáček said late last month. “We are fundamentally opposed. We will not agree to any proposal that would include mandatory relocations.”
EU refuses to conduct asylum requests in ‘third countries’
Schinas also stressed the need for better relations with third countries which serve as a source for migrants.
“If we have better relations with third countries — and we do not have them now — it will lead to a reduction in the number of people coming to Europe. We will have a better chance of securing the return of people through the readmission agreements that we now do not have,” said Schinas, though he acknowledged that there are still conditions that contribute to migration.
“We live in very difficult times, we experience instability in our immediate neighborhood, we have to reckon with the impact of demographic change in Africa, Turkey continues on a path that does not help cooperation,” Schinas cited several examples.
When addressing the concern of Visegrád Four countries about relocations, Schinas claimed that there would be no such mandatory measure, but given that there is indeed a backdoor for relocations in the pact, Visegrád Four countries are likely to remain skeptical. These countries have repeatedly warned that compulsory relocations in any form would become the pull factor that will attract more people to Europe.
The new migration policy draft also includes a proposal of a five-day screening, which all newcomers will have to go through at the borders.
“This is a quick process that will allow us to carry out a medical check, a security check, a fingerprint check in the EURODAC database, and assess whether or not the person concerned has a chance of obtaining asylum,” said Schinas.
The proposal states that the purpose of the screening is to detect, among other things, people with forged documents, or those who have already tried unsuccessfully to enter the EU in the past. However, these procedures will be an even greater burden for border countries such as Greece and Italy.
The Visegrád Four countries, therefore, repeatedly appealed that similar procedures should not take place at the borders of the European Union but outside them, in so-called hotspots. However, according to Schinas, this is impossible because there is not a single country that would be willing to agree to such a solution.