Europe’s Migration Pact, Its Consequences and the War in Ukraine

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Cornelia Ernst, Member of the European Parliament (DIE LINKE), believes that the sharp criticism levelled by NGOs and left-wing groups at Europe’s migration and asylum policy is justified – as for many years this policy has stood for a practice of cooperation with undemocratic third countries.

A policy which, through the EU’s border protection agency Frontex, tolerates human-rights violations and even, at the scholarly level, sweeps them under the carpet. The EU’s migration policy lets asylum seekers literally rot in camps at the EU’s outer borders instead of accompanying them through orderly and human asylum and integration procedures to enter a new, decent, and above all secure life. Instead, we see illegal pushbacks during which many have been dying a horrible death.

The elderly, the weak, women and children. In Poland, Spain, Greece, Croatia, Lithuania, or Latvia – we have everywhere uncovered intolerable conditions and observed the border police’s violent practices.

In Brussels a ‘new European Migration Pact’ is being negotiated. Instead of a ‘new beginning’ that abolishes the Dublin System, the proposals instead represent a pact for the deprivation of rights. As the left group in the European Parliament we have the responsibility to work on all five of the Commission’s proposals in the Committee on Internal Affairs. There are key questions on the negotiating table: Responsibility, distribution, the protection of vulnerable groups, etc. In hardly any of these are there progressive majorities or striking progress. After consultations with the member states in spring 2023 the Parliament’s positions should be completed.

Before the end of the last year there was much movement: While the Parliament has committed to enter tripartite negotiations about  EURODAC and Screening, the Council has, after years of blockade, cleared the way for the Reception Directive, the Qualification Directive, and resettlement. This is a first step. However, the politically really difficult packages such as the RAMM (Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management – which is the new Dublin Regulation), involving the concrete distribution of refugees in the EU, the asylum procedure rules, and the so-called crisis regulation, are still being negotiated in the Parliament. There is little hope here for strong progressive majorities.

Precisely when the obligatory reception of refugees is involved the member states are digging their heels. It is true that a so-called ‘solidarity declaration’ was signed by 18 member states (and three associated countries). However, the mechanism is voluntary and legally unbinding, and thus practically worthless. There are one-and-a-half years left to wind up the process. Although the European Parliament and the rotating presidency of the EU Council have recently agreed on a timetable by committing themselves to pass the Pact by February of 2024, a successful vote on most of the legislative proposals hardly seems realistic. Since we reject the Migration Pact in its current form as well as everything that the Council has put on the table (which appears either to exacerbate or to empty out the Commission’s proposal), it remains to be seen whether the Parliament can make significant improvements.

We must, however, ally with all opponents of the Pact, knowing well that even in the ranks of the Greens there are MEPs who will endorse a compromise on the drafts the Commission has presented.

What is at stake here is nothing less than universal human rights – the right to asylum and protection. Here we have to do everything in our power and forge alliances: for a Europe that remembers its democratic humanist values and ends once and for all the policy of sealing itself off, a practice which violates human rights. People who are fleeing war, discrimination, and persecution need protection and recognition, regardless of where they come from.

Thus it has been absolutely right and important to guarantee the speediest aid, protection, and safety to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war zones. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine 8 million refugees have left Ukraine for the EU, according to the UN.

This is the first time in the history of the EU that refugees have been given blanket protection status and, without having to apply for asylum, may move about freely. A lesson learned from the gruesome Yugoslav war. It shows also that the EU can easily take in great numbers of people in an uncomplicated way when it wants to. In contrast with the Migration Pact proposed by the Commission, there are ways and means of helping people in need. But here we see the difference, because non-Ukrainian refugees, wherever they come from and for whatever reason, automatically receive worse treatment. This is the expression of a deeply racist way of thinking on the part of the Commission and the Council.

Refugees from other countries are illegally pushed back, arrested, deported, or have to wait for months simply to be able to lodge an application for asylum. To this end, border fences are erected, funded recently even by EU finances. This two-class logic is carried out on the backs of the fate of real people. Thousands are dying at the EU’s outer borders or will soon perish in African camps. This issue has long since been a matter not just of the refugees but of our understanding of democracy and justice. A Europe of fences and sealing-off will forswear social progress. In so doing we are squandering not only any credibility but also our commonality in Europe because the constantly extolled values of the EU are decaying in the process. When we speak of equitable treatment for refugees we ought never to forget that the right to asylum was born during the darkest days in our continent as a protective shield for human rights, including our own.

Image source: Demokratiezentrum Wien