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Brief Overview of the EU Migration Pact



Background

The European Commission and European Parliament have been in negotiations over the last three years about changing the EU Asylum system. The goal of the change was to decrease irregular arrivals in the EU and to increase solidarity measures among EU member states. The hope is that changes would reduce the stress on EU border countries that have had to bear the brunt of irregular arrivals to the EU and support countries that are hosting more refugees than others. The overhaul was also meant to streamline the asylum system so that asylum seekers are not left waiting years in the asylum and appeals process. The European Parliament reached the end of its discussions and voted in 10 separate measures collectively known as the EU Migration Pact in April 2024.


What is the Migration Pact

The Pact focuses on a few key areas of change, but largely reinforces many of the challenges in the former system. The core aspects are:


Processing of Irregular Entries The pact emphasises quick processing and screening of migrants on the borders of Europe, including documenting biometrics with facial recognition technologies (for all including children over the age of 6), health checks, and security risks at new processing centres. This information will go into the central Eurodac database to aid in the reduction of people trying to seek asylum in multiple countries. These screenings will determine whether someone is eligible to enter into the full asylum process or go into an expedited border procedure where their case is processed while they are detained at the border and have their movements restricted. The largest criteria to determine someone’s status is the recognition rate of others from the same country. People from countries that have a lower recognition rate for asylum approval will automatically go into a border procedure unless the country is determined to be in crisis, in which case the minimum rate is raised. The goal is a maximum of 12 weeks of processing time to determine whether a person is a likely candidate for asylum status in Europe or not. Those denied will be returned to either their country of origin or to a third-party country that the individual has a connection to and that has been deemed safe for return (such as Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia). Applicants will have access to legal counsel, but not legal representation with the option to appeal a decision only possible if requested in writing within a short period. 


Solidarity Mechanisms The Pact does not change many of the mechanisms of the old Dublin system and countries of first entry will hold primary responsibility to process asylum applicants for the first 12 months. As an offset, new measures will be required where EU member states either have to take in refugees, provide technical support (currently undefined), or pay into a fund to support refugees either in other EU member states or in third-party countries. There will be an annual target of 30,000 refugees that the EU agrees to relocate across the EU, with proportional responsibility to each member state (either to take in a percentage of the quota or to pay into the fund per refugee not taken). The Pact agrees on minimum standards of provision for individuals within the asylum process, but with an understanding that those who leave their first country of entry to apply for asylum somewhere else are entitled to significantly less provision. There are also new rules in cases of crisis where member states can choose to bypass some EU regulations in order to more quickly respond to an influx of refugees. 


Legal pathways A new overhaul was also introduced to increase the number of pathways and opportunities for people to apply for asylum outside of the EU and have approved asylum status before entering.


Reception, Critiques and Hopes

Across the board, different human rights groups and NGOs have opposed the adoption of the Pact and have been campaigning for changes over the last years to no avail. EBF’s main partner in EU advocacy, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, joined with 160 other religious groups and NGOs to critique the Pact. The quicker reception mechanisms are expected to increase surveillance and racial profiling while still putting an undue burden on the border countries of the EU. It remains to be seen how the systems of pushbacks to third-party countries will work as previous models of return have yet to work. Further, the opportunities for EU member states to financially support third-party countries as an opt-out method have also been heavily criticised as some third-party countries like Tunisia and Egypt have documented evidence of human rights abuses of refugees and migrants. Many see this plan in line with the British proposed Rwanda system that seeks to fortify Europe and push the issues of migration back outside of the borders of the EU. As the EU elections loom at the beginning of June, analysts see the timing of the Pact as a way to take the issue of migration off the table as a far-right campaigning topic. There has been some praise of the new legal pathways that will expand currently restricted and narrow systems, however, the numbers of those accepted through these paths will pale in comparison to the need. 


Going forward

The Pact will soon be official EU law, but has a timeline of two years before it is expected to be adopted into the laws of member states and implemented. There is still some openness as to how implementation will realistically work and so still some time for local bodies to campaign to their governments on implementation strategies. Regardless, the changes enacted in the Migration Pact will have a significant impact on both the EU's dealings with refugees and asylum seekers and will have knock-on effects in countries bordering the EU and beyond. As Europe seeks to fortify its borders, the Church in Europe must ask what its place and position is to extend hospitality and fulfil our directive to love the stranger among us. How are we to respond in such a time as this?


Guidance to pray

  • Pray for peace, justice, and stability in countries where people flee so that fewer people are forced to leave their homes and seek shelter.

  • Pray for national leaders as they discern and discuss local implementation measures and that they may centre fairness and care for vulnerable people in their decision-making. 

  • Pray for aid and relief workers who will deal with changes to their ministries and work as a result of new Pact measures. 

  • Pray for refugees and displaced peoples who are frustrated by the decisions and can feel powerless to enact changes.

  • Pray that churches will be places of peace, hospitality, and hope for those who have been displaced. 

  • Pray for EBF member bodies in EU border countries that will face increased challenges in their ministry to displaced people as well as EBF member bodies in third-party countries that will likely continue to host disproportionately large numbers of displaced peoples. 


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