Over the past few years, building a “Europe that protects” has been a top priority for EU leaders. To reach this objective, much attention has been given to safeguarding cybersecurity, combatting cross-border crime, and devising anti-terrorism measures. But paradoxically, there have never been so many people seeking security turned away at the EU’s borders, without consideration for their protection claims.
In recent months, numerous cases of suppression have been reported at external borders both to the south and to the east. Migrants and civil society organisations have regularly condemned the way in which individuals are being pushed back from Greece, Italy, and Croatia, without taking account of their individual circumstances. We also continue to witness shocking numbers of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean – with 597 deaths recorded this year, but many more are unaccounted for.
Furthermore, standards across European asylum reception systems have generally decreased following the large-scale arrivals back in 2015-2016. In several countries, increasing numbers of asylum seekers are being deprived of their liberty upon entry. This growing recourse to immigration detention and the recent proposals to expand its lawfulness are deeply worrying trends. Not only does detention have lasting harmful effects on mental and physical health of detainees and their families, but it also limits people’s access to fair asylum procedures by impeding ability to benefit from adequate legal support.
Simply put, the EU is falling short when it comes to protecting many vulnerable asylum seekers.
Leaders cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these tragedies. 2019 is a turning point as it marks the start of a new institutional cycle. More political courage than there has been until now is desperately needed. Recently elected Members of the European Parliament will soon be joined by newly appointed officials in the European Commission. As EU institutions discuss how joint priorities will be funded under the next EU budget, they should commit to allocating adequate financial investments to designing and applying an effective asylum system that really protects those in need.
Reinforcing the pillars of a coordinated long-term approach to refugee protection must be the priority. Adequate investments are critical to ensure dignified asylum procedures in Europe.
This means addressing the structural weaknesses in national asylum systems so that those who set foot on European soil can access fair and effective asylum procedures. This would help to prevent asylum seekers and refugees from enduring deficient reception systems, or from falling into destitution.
It also means investing in legal avenues which are currently underused, such as resettlement and family reunification.
This would save lives and reduce people’s reliance on the unscrupulous services of smugglers. Merely focusing on pursuing non-EU countries’ cooperation in preventing migration is leading people in search of protection to seek more dangerous routes and take ever-greater risks.
Finally, enough funding must be dedicated to Common European Asylum System reform to safeguard the dignity and safety of asylums seekers across the EU. An important part of this would be the development of a coherent migration policy, including a plan to strengthen the social inclusion of third-country nationals in Europe. Migrants can make substantial contributions to society, but they must be adequately supported. Member States should be compelled to allocate a minimum share of their national envelope to integration related objectives.
To make sure that the rights of every person in need of international protection are respected and renew their pledge to the 1951 Refugee Convention, EU leaders must ensure that sufficient resources are allocated ensuring a sustainable approach to refugee protection. Funding an asylum policy that upholds the highest protection standards in all Member States and expands legal avenues should be a top priority. The emerging leadership must commit to enabling a Europe that really protects.