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EU tackling migrant workers issues and migration through asylum

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The European Union has finally initiated a comprehensive strategy pertaining to several dimensions related to human trafficking and seeking migration through asylum. The process has witnessed polarisation, strong debates and challenges. It may be recalled that a sort of political agreement on a New Pact with reforms was reached by the European Parliament and Council in December 2023. This eventually, according to Lena Düpont, who has been a Member of the European Parliament (EPP Group) since 2019 has led to a deal.

According to L. Dupont, despite "well-known deficiencies in its Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the EU had been unable to comprehensively reform its migration and asylum policies for almost two legislative terms. Within the Council, the existence of four groups with conflicting priorities -- frontline countries, states concerned with secondary movements, those opposing any meaningful reform, and those that remained indifferent -- made it too difficult for member states to reach common positions".

This unfortunately, according to some analysts, created shadows on already over-stretched capacities and weak coordination between national authorities, the EU, and the involved agencies. It also reduced access to protection making it difficult for asylum seekers. The lack of adequate responses resulted in divergence and overheated political debates. In turn, Europe became more susceptible to manipulation by inside actors and instrumentalisation by actors outside the EU.

On account of all this, the EU appears to have had to overcome challenges that were not consistent with its values and was unable to realise an appropriate balance between protecting fundamental rights and effectively managing borders. Instead of tackling disordered circumstances, it operated in alternative mode.

 EU analysts now feel that after many years of debates and negotiations, the context vividly changed in 2022 after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This evolving scenario challenged the Union with a new geopolitical reality and the realisation that it urgently needed to face up to an extended period of insecurity and instability.

It also led to a shift in migration and asylum policy related dimensions as it concurred with the largest refugee movement in Europe since World War II. Showing practicality and unparalleled agreement, the EU managed to find the political will to activate the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) for the first time and be hospitable towards millions of people fleeing the war in Ukraine. This unity helped to overcome existing challenges and create the path towards more agreements. The response to Ukrainian arrivals established that the divisions between member states within the Council could be overcome.

 It is in these new and unprecedented conditions that the EU reached a much-needed agreement on the New Pact reforms. However, it was generally believed that denotations indicated in the Pact would not be able to fully remove many structural and political issues that were related to geopolitical uncertainty.

The new CEAS system is expected to introduce a new method to share responsibility and solidarity better, considering that the lack of balance between the two is one of the important perceived weaknesses within the current paradigm.

Under the new rules, in the context of migrant arrivals by sea, other member states will be expected to provide solidarity through a variety of measures, including relocations of asylum seekers and financial and material support. Asylum seekers, both those relocated and those not, will benefit from this mechanism and other measures too.

Significantly, member states will receive greater EU working support to strengthen their reception capacities and thus circumvent overcrowded facilities, while complying with the higher standards set out under the recast EU Reception Conditions Directive (RCD).

 Secondly, the new Pact will also focus on preventing secondary movements. Upon arrival, a check in the Eurodac database would be made to ascertain whether a person had previously lodged an asylum application. A compulsory screening procedure of this nature will permit authorities to identify those in need of international protection and those less likely to be eligible. The latter category would be directed to a border asylum and possibly a border return procedure, should they be deemed ineligible for the asylum processes. However, the reforms contain safeguards for vulnerable people, including due consideration of the best interest of the child among others- when families with children and unaccompanied minors arrive irregularly to the EU.

L. Dupont in this context has reminded us of the difficulties of border tensions that evolved between Greece and Türkiye in 2020 and also of the problems created through the sudden influx of migrants from Belarus to Eastern European countries in 2021. The new CEAS will apparently provide methods for better crisis preparedness and resilience and also the flexibility provided by the Crisis Regulation by way of derogations from asylum and reception standards in crisis situations as a necessary addition.

 Nevertheless, analysts have observed that adopting such reforms before the end of the term of this current legislature and the next June 2024 European elections will require more solidarity and responsibility-sharing within the EU as well as further harmonisation of procedural rules and protection criteria - as the reform process appears to be still far from complete. This has been deemed to be so because of two factors which have still not been fully resolved-- both political goodwill and the considerable resources that will be required for this purpose. There is also the question of rearranging directives into national law. This will be required as Member States will need to live up to what they agreed on at the European level.

Willingness to follow a multidimensional approach and understand the reciprocal relationship between internal and external aspects of security must also be reflected in the next Commission's agenda and work programme. It has also been observed that such new procedures need to be followed by concrete actions enabled by cooperation with the international community and third countries.

In this context one also needs to refer to recent comments made by Jan-Christoph Oetien, Vice-President of the European Parliament on the EU's commitment to establishing an effective, comprehensive, and humane migration policy.

JC Oetien has recalled the dire situation that had emerged during the "refugee crisis" of 2015-16 which had exposed several deficiencies within the matrix of the European asylum system. Reference has been made in this context to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) report that over 28,000 migrants had been recorded as dead or missing since 2014. Such figures indicated that the route to Europe was probably the deadliest in the world. This, according to JC Oetien is no longer acceptable. As such, measures are needed to stop humanitarian tragedies in the Mediterranean. This connotation has become that much more significant with regard to managing rising migration flows by EU Member States.

It is in this spirit that the European Parliament has sought and reached an agreement with the Council on the New Pact reforms. This laudable effort on the part of the EU Parliament is to help asylum-seekers while addressing shortcomings in the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). It has been observed that if the "two essential elements of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum stand out: the reform will harmonise asylum procedures at the EU's external borders and introduce a flexible but mandatory solidarity mechanism between Member States".

In this regard it is being suggested by JC Oetien that "following an initial screening process that may last a maximum of seven days, those who arrive irregularly and seek international protection will either be directed to a regular asylum procedure or an accelerated border procedure, speeding up the processes. This procedure will apply if the average recognition rate for the country of origin of the asylum applicant is less than 20 per cent". From this perspective "this would mean that applicants from Pakistan, whose rate was 12  per cent in 2023, would have to undergo the accelerated procedure." This will mean that the EU can inform that the migrant applicant, while physically present in a EU member state, had not legally entered EU territory. This will "ensure that the asylum seeker's application does not automatically result in a right to stay in the country of entry".

It is being viewed that the new process will relieve EU States of a heavy organisational and administrative burden and provide migrants with legal certainty. Such a course of action is also seen as a measure that would free more resources that can be allocated to EU States to adequately receive and integrate those entitled to protection. Most importantly, under this system, unaccompanied minors will always be exempt from border procedures and that will help uphold human rights.

One needs to conclude by referring to JC Oetien's observation that "on a structural level", the achievement between the Council and the Parliament has been a "ground-breaking success for the European project". Many EU citizens had apparently doubted the Union's ability to act on such a divisive issue.

However, one needs to commend the EU for their open-minded pragmatic debates with the institutions associated with human rights, giving priority to moral obligations and effective policy-making. It is  estimated that the latest EU efforts will strengthen migration governance. That is essentially good news for the EU, as it will also help reduce the risk of political extremism. A better functioning of the EU asylum system will also enhance the acceptance of refugees with legitimate protection claims within the host society.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
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