Don’t give up on the potential for humane, sustainable migration reforms

IRC's Harlem Désir urges the Parliament to keep up the pressure to ensure fundamental rights are at the heart of the EU migration pact

By Harlem Désir

Harlem Désir is senior vice-president of the International Rescue Committee in Europe

16 Nov 2023

Now that Member States have managed to overcome the political deadlock on the EU’s asylum and migration reforms, an agreement on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum may be within reach.  

As it enters its final negotiations, the Parliament has an important role to play in ensuring the pact overcomes – rather than entrenches – some of the most pressing challenges faced by people seeking protection in Europe today. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is urging MEPs to stand firm on three key issues. 

First, all people on the move must be treated with dignity and respect in Europe, regardless how they arrive. According to a recent IRC survey, 83 per cent of arrivals in Italy this summer feel little or badly informed about their legal situation. The provision of free legal aid is vital so people know their options, and are more likely to have their asylum claim examined fairly.  

Meanwhile, as enshrined in EU legislation, nobody should face systematic recourse to detention – especially children. Our teams in Greece witness the grave impacts of containment every day. There are currently more than 15,000 people trapped in prison-like facilities which takes a devastating toll, with many reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. This model should not be replicated across Europe. 

Secondly, the pact’s focus on solidarity and responsibility-sharing is welcome. However, the priority must be to relocate people away from Europe’s borders. If a Member State opts not to help with that, it should contribute financially instead. These funds should then be invested in protection and upholding people’s rights – not preventing them from arriving in Europe at any cost. 

More than a third of asylum-seeking households interviewed by the IRC in Italy were living on the streets due to a shortage of temporary and long-term accommodation, with 40 per cent in need of clothing, blankets and other essential items. The EU’s border countries should not be forced to bear responsibility for new arrivals alone. We’re calling on MEPs to keep pressing for relocation, including for more people to be able to join their family members in other EU Member States. 

Finally, pushbacks must stop. The IRC’s teams in Greece, Serbia and Italy have heard testimonies and witnessed injuries sustained by refugees who report being attacked by authorities at Europe’s borders. Everyone has the fundamental right to seek asylum, and MEPs have a duty to ensure this is upheld.  

It is perfectly possible to forge a system that works for asylum seekers and host communities

While the pact plans to establish border monitoring mechanisms, unless these mechanisms are stronger and more independent they risk becoming a ‘fig leaf’ behind which violations are able to continue without any real consequence or oversight. 

Alongside upholding people’s right to seek asylum, the EU must expand safe routes so that people are not forced to risk their lives on treacherous journeys in the first place. Refugee resettlement, for example, enables EU Member States to provide a lifeline to the most vulnerable, yet the EU welcomed just one per cent of those in need of this tool globally in 2022. The formal adoption of the Union Resettlement Framework would be an important step towards a more humane, predictable and orderly approach. 

With the EU’s values at stake, it is vital that Parliament holds firm on its positions, and keeps up the pressure to ensure fundamental rights are at the heart of the EU pact. It is perfectly possible to forge a system founded on fairness and humanity that works for both asylum seekers and host communities. We are counting on the Parliament to make this happen.