Prioritising the protection of people in crisis situations

Parliament should narrow the criteria that activate crisis measures, says the director of the Red Cross EU Office

By Mette Petersen

Mette Petersen is director of the Red Cross EU Office

08 Nov 2023

EU leaders have now agreed a joint position on how to deal with sudden increases in arrivals at Europe’s borders. Part of the EU pact on asylum and migration, the “crisis and force majeure regulation” lists various measures that would allow Member States to deviate from EU asylum rules.

With a broad definition of crisis and ample discretion for Member States to choose among a range of derogations, the Council’s agreement on this regulation raises serious concerns about the protection of migrants’ rights. As negotiations among EU decision-makers commence, the European Parliament should narrow the criteria that activate crisis measures to ensure that they remain exceptional.

According to the Council’s position, in crisis or force majeure situations, authorities will be able to channel more people into accelerated procedures at the borders without ensuring a systematic examination of their asylum claims. People in need of protection could be exposed to great risks because they are returned before a final decision is made on their case.

The Parliament must continue to promote more protective measures when dealing with increased arrivals. For example, relocating protection seekers to other EU Member States, or granting international protection status prima facie – without exhaustive investigation – similar to the approach applied to people fleeing Ukraine.

Moreover, the troubling concept of “instrumentalisation” suggested by the European Commission is confirmed in the Council’s position, with far-reaching impact. The term describes actions by third countries or non-state actors to facilitate the arrival of large numbers of people into the EU. It is another trigger for Member States to implement crisis management measures like the ones described above.

Based on the Council’s position, non-state actors, such as humanitarian organisations, can be considered as using migrants to destabilise the EU or to jeopardise national security. This can also apply when large numbers of people are brought to safety following a search-and-rescue operation.

Migrants and the work of those assisting them should be supported, not discredited

We have already seen the damaging consequences that conflating lifesaving access to humanitarian assistance with security and foreign policy considerations can have on migrants’ dignity and rights at the EU’s eastern border.

Instead, migrants and the work of those assisting them should be supported, not discredited. Such an approach inherently challenges the ability to protect and save lives. It is therefore important to reject the concept of instrumentalisation in the Council’s position, to avoid undermining people’s protection needs.

As a humanitarian organisation that anticipates and responds to all types of emergencies, our experience tells us that crises can best be averted by strengthening preparedness and improving the resilience of national migration reception and asylum systems.

Investing resources and training personnel to improve access to services for migrants would benefit people’s wellbeing and integration prospects, as well as the capacities of states. EU operational and financial support can also go a long way in helping respond to needs and gaps on the ground.

Despite some improvements in the Council’s position, excessive focus remains on preventing onward movements, rather than enabling people to access fair asylum procedures and treating them with dignity. As negotiations continue, co-legislators should move away from framing migration as a security risk and advocate for provisions that prioritise people’s rights by reinforcing systems so that challenging situations do not become crises in the first place.