New migration pact will only increase suffering for refugees, NGOS tell Maltese MEPs

NGOs Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and Aditus tell Malta’s MEPs to reject new migration pact in Wednesday vote

Migrant boat (Photo: Sea Watch/Twitter)
Migrant boat (Photo: Sea Watch/Twitter)

The new migration pact will only serve to increase human suffering and reduce protection to refugees and migrants, NGOs have told Maltese MEPs.

“[The pact is] indeed historic, but for the wrong reasons,” NGOs Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and Aditus told the MEPs in an open letter on Monday. “Ultimately, this Pact lacks humanity, reinforcing barriers instead of embracing solidarity. We are therefore calling on MEPs to reject it and uphold the values of dignity and compassion.”

The migration pact, agreed on by member states and the European Parliament last December, will be voted on by MEPs on Wednesday.

The NGOs said that while they acknowledge that current systems of migration management and responsibility sharing are not working, the EU Pact represents a serious backsliding for the human rights of those seeking protection.

“We have several concerns about the Pact and the impact that different measures will have on people. These concerns include, but are not limited to, an increase in detention and pushbacks to countries outside of the EU,” they said. “Once the Pact is in place, most asylum seekers arriving irregularly, including women, children and families, will be detained at the EU’s borders and denied access to territory whilst their fate will be decided, based primarily on where they come from. In our experience, refugees could also come from countries generally deemed safe, which is why nationality-based assessments run the risk of missing those needing protection.”

The NGOs insist the vast majority of detention situations, physical conditions are often basic at best, and inhuman and degrading at their worst. The lack of liberty asylum seekers causes marked deterioration in a person’s psychological wellbeing, breaking even the strongest and most resilient, they said.

They also remarked in their open letter that restrictions have increased for NGOs seeking to work with asylum seekers. “This inevitably means that asylum seekers’ access to information and legal assistance, both essential to ensure that asylum seekers’ rights are protected, has been seriously curtailed.”

Concerns over collaboration with third countries

As part of the new pact, the EU is seeking to work with third countries deemed “safe”, with a view to securing agreements with these countries to allow the return of asylum seekers.

“Such agreements are already in place, such as the most recent deal with Egypt and the highly controversial deal with Tunisia, aiming to stop people crossing the Mediterranean, and entering the EU. The way in which asylum seekers’ links to these “safe” third countries will be established and how such returns will be carried out is still totally unclear, and cause for great concern,” the NGOs said,

They voiced their concern over people being returned to unsafe places where they could experience trauma and/or violence.

“Over the years, we have met countless asylum seekers who arrived in Malta after residing in, or transiting through, countries where they experienced arbitrary detention, abuse, exploitation, or even violence. Often, in these countries, asylum seekers were not only unable to access the asylum procedure but also unable to seek and obtain redress for the violations that they had suffered. This happened even though the country was, in principle, considered ‘safe’,” the NGOs said.

Five laws, one pact

The five laws contained in the New Pact are:

·      The Screening Regulation, which envisions a pre-entry procedure to swiftly examine an asylum seeker’s profile and collect basic information such as nationality, age, fingerprints and facial image. Health and security checks will also be carried out.

·      The amended Eurodac Regulation, which updates the Eurodac, the large-scale database that will store the biometric evidence collected during the screening process. The database will shift from counting applications to counting applicants to prevent multiple claims under the same name.

·      The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR), which sets two possible steps for asylum seekers: a fast-tracked border procedure, meant to last a maximum of 12 weeks, and the traditional asylum procedure, which is lengthier and can take up several months before a definite conclusion.

·      The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR), which establishes a system of “mandatory solidarity” that will be triggered when one or more member states come under “migratory pressure.” The system will offer countries three options to help out: relocate a certain number of asylum seekers, pay a contribution for each claimant they refuse to relocate, and finance operational support.

·      The Crisis Regulation, which foresees exceptional rules that will apply only when the bloc’s asylum system is threatened by a sudden and massive arrival of refugees, as was the case during the 2015-2016 migration crisis, or by a situation of force majeure, like the COVID-19 pandemic. In these circumstances, national authorities will be allowed to apply tougher measures, including longer detention periods.

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