European Parliament passes asylum and migration reforms

Non-governmental organisations (NGO) have criticised the package for undermining human rights.

Members of European Parliament
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, centre right, chairs as Members of European Parliament participate in a series of votes during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels [Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo]

The European Parliament has approved a landmark overhaul of the European Union’s asylum and migration rules.

The parliament’s main political groups overcame opposition from far-right and far-left parties to pass the new migration and asylum pact – a sweeping reform nearly a decade in the making.

In a series of 10 votes on Wednesday, European lawmakers endorsed the regulations and policies that make up the Pact on Migration and Asylum.

The reforms address the questions of who should take responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers when they arrive and whether other EU countries should be obliged to help.

“History made” parliament president Roberta Metsola posted on X on Wednesday following the passage of the migration and asylum pact.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the new rules a “historic, indispensable step” for the EU.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said the bloc “will be able to better protect our external borders, the vulnerable and refugees, swiftly return those not eligible to stay” and introduce “mandatory solidarity” between member states.

Protesters interrupt vote

Outside the Brussels parliament building, dozens of demonstrators protested against the vote, echoing criticism from more than 160 migrant charities and non-governmental organisations.

In a sign of the fierce opposition, the start of voting was interrupted by protesters in the public gallery yelling, “This pact kills – vote no!” until the chamber was brought to order.

Members of European Parliament
Demonstrators wear a message on their shirts which reads “This pact kills” while standing in the visitors gallery, as Members of European Parliament participate in a series of votes, during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels [Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo]

The legislation requires all EU member states to take some form of responsibility for managing asylum applications.

If an EU country does not want to accept people applying for asylum, then that member state must give alternative assistance like financial contributions to a support fund.

Also, EU member states experiencing significant spikes in applications for asylum may call for the applicants to be distributed to other EU countries.

The most controversial part of the package involves establishing border facilities in the EU to host asylum seekers and screen and quickly send back applicants found not to be ineligible.

Swedish parliamentarian Malin Bjork said that the pact does not respond to “any of the questions it was set to solve.”

She said the reform package “undermines the individual right to seek asylum” in Europe because it would build on plans that some EU countries already have to process migrants abroad. Italy has concluded one such deal with Albania. Bjork’s Left group voted against the pact.

Far-right lawmakers complained the overhaul did not go far enough to block access to irregular migrants.

Rights groups denounce pact

Human rights groups mostly slammed the reform package.

In a joint statement, 22 charity groups, including the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, said the pact “leaves troubling cracks deep within Europe’s approach to asylum and migration, and fails to offer sustainable solutions for people seeking safety at Europe’s borders.”

The groups said that part of the reforms governing the resettlement of migrants to Europe from outside the bloc “offers a glimmer of hope for many refugees across the globe.”

Eve Geddie from Amnesty International described it as “a failure to show global leadership.”

“For people escaping conflict, persecution, or economic insecurity, these reforms will mean less protection and a greater risk of facing human rights violations across Europe – including illegal and violent pushbacks, arbitrary detention, and discriminatory policing,” she said.

The 27 EU member countries must now endorse the reform package, possibly in a vote in late April, before it can take effect.

Source: News Agencies