Brussels – The European Commission is to propose a long-awaited overhaul of the European Union’s migration and asylum system on Wednesday, likely setting off an explosive debate over what is one of the bloc’s most politically sensitive issues.
The EU’s migration system has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with bottlenecks forming at external borders.
Under current EU rules, the country where people first arrive generally has to process their asylum claims, meaning countries with external borders carry a disproportionate burden.
Automatically redistribute of asylum seekers
While some countries argue for a mechanism to automatically redistribute asylum seekers, others – such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria – strongly oppose this. Rights activists are concerned that the new measures could see a tightening of asylum rules.
With the proposals set to cause conflict between EU countries, it is far from certain that they will be approved by EU leaders and the European Parliament. Previous attempts have failed.
Respect the fundamental right of asylum
Ahead of the proposal, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration on Tuesday urged the EU to respect the fundamental right to seek asylum, claiming the bloc’s current approach is “unworkable, untenable and often carries devastating human consequences.”
According to the commission’s document registry, the EU executive body is to propose a set of five new and amended regulations, some of which address the screening of asylum seekers and crisis situations.
Screenings could relate to checking for arrivals who are unwell, or for people who have been classified as a security risk. It could also mean subjecting migrants to a preliminary assessment to exclude those who allegedly have no basis for an asylum claim, as Germany has proposed.
Rights organizations are worried that this could effectively bar groups of migrants from having their asylum claims assessed properly, and that even more people might be detained at the EU’s external borders.
Solidarity mechanism for crisis moments
In the wake of the disastrous fire earlier this month at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, which hosted some 12,000 people, the commission is also expected to propose a solidarity mechanism for crisis moments.
This regulation, according to rights organizations and media reports, will foresee a three-step approach, comprising of a regular level where solidarity is voluntary; secondly, the beginning of a crisis; and thirdly, an acute crisis level. Each level would imply a different scale of obligations, with the third requiring mandatory solidarity pledges by EU countries, according to the reports.
The commission has previously highlighted that solidarity can mean not just taking migrants in, but also, for example, sending medical supplies or equipment for patrolling borders.