New EU Pact on Migration and Asylum: Normalizing the Far-Right Agenda

The preliminary agreement that took place on December 20th regarding the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, was the epilogue of what can only be described as a “black” year for Europe which, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), saw the death of 3,439 people at its borders. Furthermore, 29,500 people shared the same fate from 2014 onwards, according to the Missing Migrants Project. These numbers can only be described as chilling and, on their own, debunk the notion of a “civilized Europe” that has respect forhuman rights.

In 2023, the number of displaced people worldwide surpassed any historical precedent, reaching 110 million! Among them, 36.4 million (one third) are purely war refugees, and 43.3 million (40%) are children. Importantly, the full consequences of the ongoing war in Gaza have not yet been fully documented. However, these numbers do not directly concern the European continent, except for the case of Ukrainian refugees, as 69% of the globally displaced seek refuge in neighbouring countries, which are often equally poor or even poorer than the country of origin. The number of refugees reaching EU member states is 22.8 million, constituting only 5% of the total immigrant population of 448.5 million!

Meanwhile, the new Pact comes at a particularly significant moment, in view of the 2024 European elections, where European Far-Right parties hope for an electoral leap driven by their anti-migrant/refugee agenda. However, national governments and the directorate of the capitalist EU are also promoting a similar agenda. On the one hand, this is because it allows them to shift the responsibility off for pressing issues, such as inflation on basic goods, the housing crisis, poverty, the dismantling of the welfare state, etc. And on the other hand, it is because they believe that a stringent Pact, mimicking part of the Far-Right agenda, may stall its electoral rise. However, history has demonstrated that this approach is the most reliable way to achieve the exact opposite outcome. Most recent example is Greece, where the ongoing crisis of the Left and the hardline anti-refugee policies of the New Democracy government have paved the way for the rise of three new Far-Right parties, now represented also in the parliament.

What is the new Pact?

Essentially, the main characteristic of the new Pact is that there is absolutely no mention of an intended action plan to prevent the myriad deaths taking place at the EU’s land and sea borders. There is not a single word addressing the thousands of complaints filed against illegal pushbacks, mistreatment and violence at the borders, or even the inhumane living conditions in state-run refugee camps. All of these burning issues appear to be considered as unworthy of discussion by European leaders.

The initial negotiations for the Pact began in September 2020 and involve the following issues:

1. Border control (screening) and database operation (Eurodac),

2. Modification of the procedure regarding filing for asylum,

3. Alteration of the management of asylum seekers, and

4. Provisions for handling emergency situations or “crises” (as they have been referred to).

The EU directorate aims to conclude the negotiations promptly, so that the new Pact can be ratified by national parliaments before the European elections and implemented immediately thereafter.

Border control, filing for asylum, deportations

The new Pact proposes that the initial screening at the border for health, identity, vulnerability, family status, and fingerprints should be completed within a mere five days, without any provision for legal assistance or the involvement of specialists (such as psychologists, trafficking experts, etc.). It is proposed that registration in the database (Eurodac) will be automatic without the right to challenge the outcome. Individuals will be directed to Closed Controlled Facilities (CCFs) for their accommodation, which, in reality, based on experiences from Greece, operate as specialized prisons under a euphemistic name.
Obviously, the objective behind the shortened processing time, is the conscious overall obstruction, particularly of the most vulnerable individuals, preventing them from being able to demonstrate their vulnerability (for example, victims of torture, survivors of sexual assaults, individuals with mental health conditions, etc.).

Throughout this phase, all refugees, including children, will be considered to reside in a “neutral zone” outside the jurisdiction of the EU or the corresponding member state. These “zones” cannot be accessed by solidarity movements and the local community, and thus, it will be practically impossible to scrutinise what will be happening there. In essence, these “neutral zones” will operate under a broad state of exception, where the rights of asylum seekers won’t be recognized, and only regulations that align with the Fortress Europe narrative will be ultimately enforced.

During the second phase, a distinction will be made, categorizing asylum seekers into two groups: the first group will consist of those undergoing the standard, lengthier asylum process who will be directed to stay at the hosting facilities in the inland, and the second group will consist of those undergoing a fast-track border assessment. For the latter group, which will also be confined in detention at the border Controlled Facilities (CCFs), the result is already pre-determined: a 99% rejection rate and subsequent deportation.

The primary criterion for selection is, in essence, an extreme “cut-off” measure for everyone, including children. Asylum seekers from countries where the annual rates of recognized refugees in the EU fall below 20% will be “cut off” and held in detention until deportation! Essentially, the selection criteria will be fundamentally racist as they will exclude people from most countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America! Moreover, this sweeping “cut-off” measure will violate one of the main principles of the Geneva Convention, which states the necessity for the case-by-case consideration of each asylum request.

This expedited border assessment will have a maximum duration of 12 weeks, followed by a rejection for asylum and swift deportation. Moreover, if the applicant objects the rejection for asylum, this will not, under any circumstance, prevent the decision for deportation. Furthermore, in cases where deportation faces delays (e.g., if a country refuses to accept its deported nationals), detention could be extended for up to 12 months. Astoundingly, this rule will also apply to children aged 12 and above! This sweeping categorization of all refugees will victimise individuals whose specific circumstances, if examined separately, would make them eligible for an international protection status or humanitarian asylum (including survivors of torture, victims of trafficking, etc).

One of the criticisms directed at the rapid border evaluation, noted even from some capitalist governments such as the German one, is the noteworthy lack of provision for a mechanism to monitor and document objections, complaints, etc. It is possible that such a mechanism might be introduced in the final version of the Pact but very likely only as a diversion. This is because, as exemplified in the case of Greece, instances of pushbacks, border violence, and the Pylos shipwreck massacre took place under the direct oversight of FRONTEX.

“Solidarity,” “safe countries,” and periods of “crisis”

Within the new Pact, the Dublin Regulation remains in effect, allocating the primary responsibility for handling newly arriving refugees to member countries serving as entry points to the EU (Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, etc.) Concurrently, a novel “mandatory solidarity” regulation will be introduced for all other member states, which can take three forms: the relocation of a specific number of asylum seekers, or compensatory payments per individual for rejecting relocation, or financial support for operations securing the EU’s external borders. In this instance, if a member state refuses to partake in relocating asylum seekers within its borders, it will be compelled to contribute €20,000 per person to a collective fund.

Obviously, this trivializes the significance of the notion of “solidarity”, as ultimately, central and northern EU capitalists will proceed to buy off border watchdogs whilst relinquishing any accountability for the equal distribution and protection of refugee rights.

The Pact is, of course, unclear as to where the money from this fund will end up, but the EU’s expenditures for migration and asylum seekers in recent years has been directed towards FRONTEX, border fences, militarization of the borders and funding neighbouring EU countries to take on the role of border watchdogs (Turkey, Libya, Tunisia, Albania, etc.). All indications suggest that this trend will persist.

In practical terms, this means that the Pact grants each member state a blank check to label any country as “safe” for accepting deportees, often in exchange for economic benefits, without ensuring any of the refugees’ rights. For instance, Libya faces allegations of widespread sexual assaults, extortion, torture, and forced labour in refugee detention centres, according to reports from IOM, the UNHCR, and Doctors Without Borders. Similarly, Tunisia has been accused of abandoning African refugees in the desert near Libya, leaving them without water or food until their demise. Similar scenarios play out in Turkey, where the general rule is that of authoritarianism, repression, and the denial of basic human rights.

On the other hand, EU governments will continue to denounce human traffickers and terrorist networks, claiming concern for the rights and lives of refugees and immigrants, portraying them as mere instruments of manipulation. Meanwhile, they will add new chapters to the encyclopaedia of hypocrisy and “manipulation” of migrants and refugees, all for the sake of their own geopolitical objectives, imperialistic interventions and neocolonial arrogance.

A novel aspect in the Pact is the introduction of regulations concerning exceptions during “periods of crisis.” This is yet another blank check in the hands of member states, exacerbating the dire conditions for individuals seeking protection. These member states have the authority to label occasions such as a large increase in arrivals and asylum requests as a “crisis”. This could include instances like the 2015-16 period or specific circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

During such “crises”, member states will have the authority to impose stricter regulations and adjust timelines to their most stringent form. For instance, they will be able to “freeze” the entire asylum application process for a month or even longer. They may modify all deadlines, broaden the number of individuals subjected to swift border assessments, and prolong the detention periods for all asylum seekers. None of these actions resemble the stance of the European leadership during the Ukrainian crisis in 2022 when all international laws for refugees were fully adhered to (and rightly so), exposing their hypocrisy when it comes to defending “human rights”. Their display of compassion is exclusively dependent on their economic and geopolitical interests.

We Must Resist Their Policies

Capitalist governments and the far-right will persist in their shared agenda. It is crucial we stand firm and take action:

  • Oppose the ratification of this new Pact by national parliaments.
  • Permanently halt sea and land pushbacks at EU borders, and cessation of the constant use of violence, barriers, and militarization of borders. Redirect allocated funds towards policies that respect the internationally recognized rights of refugees.
  • Reinstate search and rescue operations and establish secure and legal pathways to Europe to prevent further loss of lives at borders.
  • Ensure dignified reception and living conditions for all individuals seeking protection and security. Implement fair and proportional distribution of refugees across all European countries based on their economy, size, population, and specific needs.
  • Reject the outsourcing of refugee management, detention, and prevention to external entities. Abolish agreements such as EU-Turkey, EU-Tunisia, etc.
  • Immediate disengagement from the prolonged war in Ukraine, cessation of support for ethnic cleansing in Gaza, and withdrawal from all imperialist interventions. Divert European funds to contribute to the reconstruction of these countries and combat poverty and hunger.
  • In order to fight for these demands we need a joint struggle of workers, youth, and refugees across Europe for a dignified life, work, and existence. We can all live together comfortably if we demand what is ours from the capitalists’ excessive profits.
  • We need a united front to fight against the rise of the far-right, and to build a Left force that represents working class people, in order to break free from a system that fosters poverty, oppression, war and fascism.

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