Migration and asylum : the European consistency

The end of the summer break was marked by a set of communications and statements on migration and the need to continue reducing the arrival flows on the European territory.

From Paris to Brussels, from the President of the European Commission to the JHA Council of Ministers, there is a clear unanimity in setting the lines of the policy that the European Union intends to pursue in the upcoming months. The emphasis is set on irregular migrants’ returns, cooperation with third countries to limit arrivals, legal migration routes for refugees through resettlement, and the openness to an economic immigration. All in all, a marvellous unanimity in continuity...

Welcoming only the refugees who really need protection ...

Considering the difficulties expressed by Member States in responding to the influx of migrants, the EU considers that a quick identification of migrants in need of protection is fundamental. At the JHA Council, Andres Anvelt, the Estonian Home Affairs Minister (in charge of the Presidency) stressed the need to "become more efficient in identifying those who are genuinely in need of international protection and return those who do not have the right to stay in Europe".

... and ensure the return of 1.5 million people in an irregular situation

Similar conclusions can be found in the joint declaration following the meeting on migration organised in Paris by the French President Emmanuel Macron, which brought together the heads of state or government of Germany, Spain, France and Italy, as well as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, the Heads of State and Government of Niger and Chad, and the President of the Libyan Presidential Council. The final text stresses that "irregular migrants who are not entitled to any form of international protection must be returned to their country of origin in safety, order and dignity, preferably on a voluntary basis, taking into account national law and in accordance with international law".

While return rates are deemed insufficient for several years (around 36% in 2014-15), the Commission considers that it is necessary to reinforce the returns unit within the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and to create a "genuine European return platform". In his speech on the State of the Union, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that "this is the only way Europe will be able to show solidarity with refugees in real need of protection” understanding that such returns should preferably take place on a "voluntary basis”. In addition, in order to assist Member States in rationalising their policies in the area, the Commission has published a revised manual with a list of recommendations on returns.

Strengthening the partnerships with third countries to prevent arrivals in Europe

At the "Paris Summit" on migration, participants welcomed the progress made, namely the reduction of arrivals and particularly crossings via the central Mediterranean road. Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the EU reiterated their "determination to stem the flow of irregular migration long before they reach the Mediterranean coasts".

To this end, priority is given to the improvement of human rights protection and living conditions in Libya, promoting voluntary returns, and undermining the economic model of smuggling networks. These measures will accompany those aimed at discouraging migrants from undertaking a risky journey on the sea to reach the European continent. Furthermore, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the EU, welcomed Niger and Chad cooperation, acknowledged the results already achieved by both countries and stated that they commit to support their efforts.

In two press releases, on 6[1] and 27[2] September, the Commission says nothing more. "Good progress in managing migration flows needs to be sustained” is the headline of its press release on 6 September. It welcomes the actions in the Mediterranean region which "are starting to bear fruits" and is pleased with the decline of arrivals via the central Mediterranean road due to better border control. A satisfaction that Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship repeated few weeks later in his speech in Lampedusa, on the occasion of the "anniversary" of the 3 October 2013 shipwreck : "since 2015, 620,000 lives were saved in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean thanks to the Italian and Greek rescue operations as well as both Triton and Poseidon operations of the European Coast Guard Agency and the Sophia operation”.

In other words, based on these numerical results, the EU will continue its efforts to "stem" the arrival of migrants on its borders, without really distinguishing the root causes leading to these migrations (armed conflicts, discrimination, human rights violations, poverty, etc.).

The same priorities were highlighted by Jean-Claude Juncker in his speech on the State of the Union. In particular, the President of the Commission welcomed the progress made in protecting the external borders, hence contradicting his remarks assuring that Europe is no fortress and remains the continent of solidarity.

President Juncker also praised the agreement with Turkey which and stated that the agreement made it possible to “[reduce] irregular arrivals in the Eastern Mediterranean by 97%” and thus allowed to "drastically [reduce] the loss of life in the Mediterranean". It is well known that many people in the European governing bodies feel that this experience should be duplicated with other third countries.

In its "5th Progress Report on the Partnership Framework for Migration", adopted on 6 September, the Commission therefore draws up some lines of action to be developed. Unsurprisingly, priority is given, inter alia, to the collaboration with Libya, currently the main transit country for African migrants, the strengthening of controls at its borders (including its southern border), the dismantling of smuggling networks and the improvement of the refugees’ living conditions in Libya. At the same time, Jean-Claude Juncker called on the Member States to honour their commitments towards the EU-Africa Trust Fund.

Promoting skilled economic immigration

Moreover, in line with the philosophy he developed upon his appointment at Commission Presidency in November 2014, President Juncker believes that the EU must imperatively have a system of legal migration to face the ageing of its population. In this respect, he puts lots of hope in the European Parliament and the Council ability to quickly reach an agreement and adopt the Commission’s proposal for a revision of the European Blue Card Directive. (see also, in this Newsletter, the article devoted to the "State of the Union speech").

The Commission also proposes to coordinate and provide financial support for pilot projects related to legal migration in partnership with third countries. The aim of these measures is to substitute irregular migration for qualified economic migration, to which the Member States would resort to depending on their needs. One may remember that the issue was the subject of a difficult debate between European leaders and their African counterparts at the Valletta summit in November 2015. Since then, the negotiations on the visa issues have (very) partially progressed in exchange of the commitment from third countries to readmit their illegally staying nationals.

For refugees : 50,000 resettlement places

Finally, under the heading "legal migration", the Commission recommends the implementation, in October 2019, of a new program for the resettlement of at least 50,000 persons in need of international protection over the next two years. To this end, EUR 500 million have been set aside to assist Member States. Similarly, the Commission also encourages Member States to set up private sponsorship programs, enabling private groups or civil society organisations to organise and finance resettlements in accordance with national legislation. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) is responsible for coordinating a pilot project on private sponsorship programs with interested Member States.


The count is not valid !

Once again, the European authorities assess the success of the European migration and asylum policy solely on quantitative criterion : ​​"progress" is considered "satisfactory" because the number of arrivals on the European territory has decreased !

Indeed, in 2017 the number of arrivals dropped. However this has nothing to do with the decrease in the number of asylum applications in the world, neither because Africans no longer want to migrate, nor because the Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan or Sudanese refugees no longer have reasons to flee their country. The arrivals have fallen because Europe’s protection is becoming more and more efficient and, from now on, some third countries accept to play the role of second-line coastguards for an alleged ’solidarity’ negotiated by the EU.

At the very least, the term "solidarity", often repeated in the numerous statements or publications of the past few weeks in order to characterise the European policy, seems to be based on a very specious approach of the role of Europe especially once you consider that the Commission welcome the adoption of a "resettlement" program, which should enable 50,000 refugees to arrive in Europe "legally and safely" and thus adding to the 22,518 persons that have been resettled from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, since July 2015.

50,000 refugees resettled versus 1.5 million returned migrants ... What a progress in the respect of rights !

[1] European Commission, European Agenda on Migration : Good progress in managing migration flows needs to be sustained, 6 September 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-3081_en.htm

[2] European Commission, State of the Union 2017 – Commission presents next steps towards a stronger, more effective and fairer EU migration and asylum policy, 27 September 2017, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-3406_en.htm


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