EU countries and lawmakers reached an agreement Wednesday on an overhaul of the bloc’s laws on handling asylum-seekers and migrants, officials said.
The reform includes speedier vetting of irregular arrivals, creating border detention centres, accelerated deportation for rejected asylum applicants and a solidarity mechanism to take pressure off southern countries experiencing big inflows.
Spain, which chaired the lengthy negotiations in its role holding the EU presidency, said on X, formerly Twitter: “A political agreement has been reached on the five files of the EU new Pact on Migration and Asylum.”
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “It’s been a long road to get here. But we made it. Europe is finally delivering on migration.”
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen added that “migration is a common European challenge — today’s decision will allow us to manage it together”.
The accord still needs to be formally approved by the European Council, representing the 27 EU member countries, and the European Parliament before it enters the bloc’s lawbooks.
The migration issue has taken on a harder political edge in Europe in recent years with the rise of nationalist anti-immigrant parties in several EU countries, including Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The negotiators were keen to reach a workable deal that could be enacted before the term of the current European Parliament ends in June 2024.
But dozens of charities that help migrants — including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Caritas and Save the Children — have criticised the changes, saying in an open letter that the package would create a “cruel system” that is unworkable.
The overhaul, based on a commission proposal put forward three years ago, keeps the existing principle under which the first EU country an asylum-seeker enters is responsible for their case.
But to help countries experiencing a high number of arrivals — as is the case with Mediterranean countries Italy, Greece and Malta — a compulsory solidarity mechanism would be set up.
That would mean a certain number of migrant relocations to other EU countries, or countries that refuse to take in migrants would provide a financial or material contribution to those that do.
The planned reform also aims for an accelerated filtering and vetting of asylum-seekers so those deemed ineligible can be quickly sent back to their home country or country of transit.
That procedure — which requires border detention centres being set up — would apply to irregular migrants coming from countries whose nationals’ asylum requests are rejected in more than 80 percent of cases.
The MEPs obtained guarantees that families with young children would have adequate conditions and that monitoring would take place so that detained migrants’ rights were upheld and free legal advice provided, one lawmaker, Fabienne Keller, told AFP.
Another point is a proposed “surge response” under which protections for asylum-seekers could be curtailed in times of significant inflows, as happened in 2015-2016 when more than two million asylum-seekers arrived in the EU, many from war-torn Syria.
The EU is seeing a rising number of irregular migrant arrivals and asylum requests.
In the first 11 months of this year, the EU border agency Frontex has registered more than 355,000 irregular border crossings into the bloc, an increase of 17 percent.
The number of asylum-seekers this year could top one million, according to the EU Agency for Asylum.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)