UNHCR, IOM insist on common EU approach to migration and asylum

FILE PHOTO: A view of a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos
FILE PHOTO: A view of a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

On the eve of the launch of the European Commission’s new Pact on Migration and Asylum, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration are appealing to the EU to ensure a truly joint and principled approach that addressed all aspects of migration and asylum governance.

The two UN bodies expressed their hope that the new pact would signal a move from the present ad hoc crisis-driven approach to asylum and migration in Europe to one that was more comprehensive, well-managed and predictable. They highlighted that at present, new arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe were relatively few, and that consequently, now was the time for common actions.

They expressed concern about recent events across the Mediterranean, including what appear to be indirect references to Malta’s conduct on the matter. The UNHCR and the IOM highlighted delays in disembarking migrants and refugees rescued at sea and increasing reports of push-backs, charges that have both been levelled at Malta. They also flagged the devastating fires at the Moria registration and identification centre on the Greek island of Lesvos.

These events, they said, highlighted the urgent need to reform the way the EU managed migration and asylum.

Present EU approach ‘unworkable, untenable’

 “The current approach in the EU is unworkable, untenable and often carries devastating human consequences,” the two organisations maintained.

The lack of an EU-wide agreement on disembarkation was exacerbating human suffering, leading the organisation to call for a common EU action assuming responsibility for search and rescue and for the disembarkation of people rescued at sea.

They welcomed Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s assertion that saving lives at sea was not optional, and extended concern for those who find themselves endangered along all migrant routes.

“Saving lives must be the priority and should not be impeded or criminalised,” the organisations insisted.

‘More predictable’ relocation arrangements

The UNHCR and the IOM also called for more predictable arrangements on the relocation of migrants and asylum seekers within the EU, emphasising their active support of recent relocations from the Greek islands. They said that the relocation of vulnerable people proved to be a workable example of responsibility sharing.

“The Pact presents the opportunity for Europe to show that it can uphold the fundamental right to asylum, while cooperating on pragmatic policies to identify those in need of international protection and share responsibility for them,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi maintained. “We will welcome genuine efforts to ensure a fast, fair and effective protection regime in Europe, and pledge our full support and expertise to the European Commission and Member States in making it a reality.”

The organisations also noted that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted the value of migrant and refugee workers, adding that their contribution and potential should be maximised.

 “People on the move can be part of the solution. We are looking forward to the new Pact as an opportunity for Europe to reimagine the governance of migration and human mobility as safe, orderly, inclusive and human rights centred.” IOM director-general Antonio Vitorino maintained. “A balanced, principled and comprehensive approach recognizes that migration is a human reality to be managed towards mutually beneficial ends. It will also be important for the EU to ensure that longer-term policy is coherent in its internal and external aspects, is rooted in genuine partnerships, and aligned with existing international frameworks and agreements.”

Address smuggling by broadening legal migration

The UNHCR and the IOM also touched upon smuggling, stating that it could be addressed “with equal attention and resources devoted to strengthening and broadening legal migration and safe pathways, genuine partnerships, integration and building prosperous, healthy, cohesive communities.”

Investing in regular migration channels and enhanced mobility will also be essential to sustainable development and growth in the EU and elsewhere, they maintained.

The UN bodies also emphasised the importance of dignified returns for those who wish to return to their countries of origin or who are found not to be in need of protection, adding that voluntary returns should be prioritised and that they should include provisions for sustainable reintegration. But they highlighted that some migrants who are found not in need of asylum may nevertheless have a legitimate need for other forms of assistance and protection.

The EU should also help countries hosting large refugee populations with additional financial assistance and political support, including to strengthen their asylum seekers.

Such measures, the two organisations said, would help ensure that fewer people would need to resort to dangerous journeys, and states would be better able to manage arrivals.

“The EU has the opportunity to ensure a united and human rights-centred Europe, where migrants and refugees can contribute their skills and resources—a Europe that leaves no one behind. UNHCR and IOM stand ready to support the EU and its Member States in line with their respective mandates and expertise,” the two UN bodies concluded.