The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee on October 12 backed plans to provide a safe and legal passage to the European Union for people in need of international protection.

Approved by 37 votes to 20, with 2 abstentions, the draft EU regulation serves as a resettlement framework that provides for common rules on the admission and transfer of non-EU nationals who seek protection in one of the member states. It also provides for safe and legal travel to the EU for stateless people or vulnerable refugees whose need for international protection has been recognised.

The MEPs agreed that member states should provide resettled persons with a long-lasting solution, first and foremost by granting refugee status. Secondly, they may grant permanent residence permits. And, to keep family unity, specific family members should be resettled too.

The MEPs also called for the alignment with the UNHCR resettlement programme. The MEPs noted that resettlement should not be an instrument for other foreign policy objectives, or be conditional upon cooperation with third countries on other migration-related matters, as initially proposed by the European Commission.

“This vote gives a positive message and shows that the European Parliament stands strong in its support of an EU resettlement programme, based on solidarity and humanitarian needs,” said rapporteur Malin Björk (GUE, SE). “This is a major step forward for all of us who have worked to create safe and legal pathways for people in need of international protection.”

According to the S&D Group spokesperson for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, Birgit Sippel, a functioning European asylum system needs fair rules on resettlement.

“By linking the UNHCR´s Global Resettlement needs with the EU´s commitment to resettle 20% of those in need, the EU can step up and contribute to a global solution,” said the German MEP. “The proposal from the European Commission to update these rules was positive but did not address certain key areas. We have insisted that the resettlement should not be conditional on co-operation on border control. We have a legal obligation to help those fleeing war and persecution and this should not be linked to measures to prevent illegal migration into Europe.”

In turn, S&D Group’s spokesperson for the report on resettlement, Kati Piri, stressed the need to ensure the EU is helping to protect those in the most vulnerable positions. “Families have the right to be reunited and this must be treated separately to the general principle of resettling those who are most in need. We also ensured that those who have tried to reach the EU illegally are not excluded from the resettlement programme… We cannot criminalise or punish people for trying to get protection for themselves or their families.”

The view from the GUE/NGL Group in the European Parliament was similar. Rapporteur Malin Björk said: “Most importantly, the European Parliament has rejected the idea of resettlement as yet another tool for the EU to control migration. Resettlement will remain a humanitarian response to the global refugee situation, not another means for the EU to achieve foreign policy objectives or to control the borders of third countries.”