Today’s European Parliament plenary vote on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum marks the end of lengthy negotiations to reform the European rules on asylum. Caritas Europa is concerned about its potential negative impact on thousands of people’s lives, as the new rules clearly limit access to protection for those in need.

Regretfully, the Pact failed to reform the dysfunctional Dublin system, which makes the EU country where an asylum seeker first arrives responsible for processing the asylum claim. The new rules rely instead on a complicated solidarity mechanism where EU Member States can literally pay to avoid the relocation of asylum seekers, which will not compensate for the increased responsibility that will fall on the Member States at the EU’s external border.

The expansion of the use of fast-track asylum and return border procedures to confine asylum seekers at EU’s border countries and prevent “secondary movement” is also problematic. This will result in widespread detention, including of families and children, rushed asylum procedures with restricted safeguards and poor reception standards in strained border countries. The new screening also risks increasing and legitimising discriminatory racial profiling.

The expanded use of the “safe third country” concept will mean that more people will be expected to be returned to a country of transit, like Tunisia for instance, reflecting the growing externalisation trend that seeks to shift asylum responsibility to non-EU countries and boost returns.

Lastly, but importantly, a series of exceptional measures will be available for governments to delay access to the asylum procedure and prolong border procedures in cases of crisis situations, and the controversial concept of “instrumentalisation” of migrants by non-EU countries is introduced in EU law.

Member States have now two years to prepare for the implementation of the Pact. We urge them to prevent blanket border detention, set up dignified reception conditions, including adequate medical support and legal aid, and allow NGOs to access people undergoing border procedures. Robust monitoring involving the EU asylum agency and the European Commission must take place with concrete consequences in case or wrongdoing and non-respect of EU law.

“Since 2014, over 30,000 people have died in the Mediterranean and this must change if we want the EU to live up to its values. Access to fair and dignified asylum procedures and reception conditions in the EU, as well as safe pathways are part of the solution.”

Michael Landau, President of Caritas Europa

As we outline in our memorandum for the European elections, we want the new European Parliament to demonstrate global leadership in promoting a more welcoming Europe anchored in human rights. The unprecedented solidarity towards refugees from Ukraine shows what the EU can do when there is strong political will.

More safe routes for people to move, work and settle in safety and dignity is also needed. The expansion of resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as well as labour migration should be part of the solution.

It is time to acknowledge the migrants’ positive and indispensable contribution to Europe’s societies instead of pursuing the illusion that blocking human mobility is possible and desirable.