New EU proposal on refugees receives mixed response from MEPs

The European Commission's proposed Asylum and Migration Pact intends to improve current EU rules and procedures on asylum and migration by strengthening shared responsibility across members. The European Parliament’s civil liberties,  justice and home affairs committee met to discuss this proposed reform last week, where the Pact received a mixed reaction.

The proposed legislation would replace the Dublin Agreement in dealing with refugees across Europe, and introduce pre-entry screening, monitoring mechanisms, and new avenues for member state involvement. These  include countries choosing to accept refugees relocated into their territory, taking responsibility for returning rejected asylum seekers, or provide operational support to other countries in this process. EU states will be legally required to contribute based on GDP.

During the debate with Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, MEPs requested more concrete information about how the pact would be applied on the ground and enforced. Some considered the initiative to be a positive step to help EU counties where most of the asylum seekers first arrive, while others described it as the only way forward from the current situation.

However, MEPs also questioned whether the new rules will prevent another humanitarian disaster such as the recent fire in the Moria refugee camp and wondered whether the new screening and border procedures would respect fundamental rights. Several MEPs regretted that the principle of the current Dublin regulation - requiring the country of first entry to handle asylum claims - remains in the new regulation proposal, because they were worried this will maintain the burden on countries where most of the asylum seekers first arrive.

The European Commission’s proposal avoids compulsory relocation quotas, which proved so controversial in the previous proposal. EU countries can choose to take in (relocate) asylum applicants or commit to returning irregular migrants (sponsor returns) from another EU country. MEPs were concerned that this flexibility could lead to a situation where many EU countries choose to sponsor returns instead of taking in applicants and raised questions about the enforcement mechanisms and the effective cooperation with third countries. Some MEPs demanded the mandatory relocation of refugees, while others wanted a firmer stance on irregular arrivals.

Both the European Parliament and Council need to approve the legislation for it to enter into force.