European Commission Proposes New EU Refugee Plan

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday unveiled a new proposal for the EU’s refugee plan.

The plan aims to provide a common strategy to respond to the challenges posed by the current refugee crisis. The ongoing issue has been exacerbated by the displacement of 13,000 refugees following the fire at the Moria refugee camp in Greece.

“We have created a complex internal market, a common currency and an unprecedented regeneration plan to rebuild our economies. Now is the time to rise to the challenge of managing migration together, with the right balance between solidarity and responsibility,” von der Leyen told reporters.

The new EC proposal has three main pillars:

– More efficient and faster procedures at the EU’s external borders.

In particular, the Commission proposes the introduction of pre-entry controls. In addition to fingerprints, as is now the case, controls will also include a health and safety check. The aim is to make faster decisions about granting asylum or returning the individual to their country of origin.

– A new mechanism of “solidarity and responsibility”. 

The Commission aims to overcome disputes over the compulsory redistribution of asylum seekers by adopting a system of “flexible contributions” from EU countries. For example, countries that do not want to accept applicants may choose to manage the return of people who have been denied asylum.

– Returns. Official EU figures show that on average, approximately 370,000 asylum applications are rejected each year, but only about a third of these people are expelled from the bloc. The Commission now proposes the appointment of a Return Coordinator, who will focus on monitoring the departure of those who are rejected by EU countries.

Von der Leyen said that the EC proposal was comprehensive:

“The package reflects the complexity of the problem as it brings together all aspects of migration, border management and protection, asylum and their integration and returns, as well as relations with international partners.”

She added that sea rescue will be compulsory and a part of EU immigration policy.

“The sea rescue is compulsory and not optional,” von der Leyen told the media.

Recently, Malta was accused of violating human rights and international law after it called on a Maersk ship to pick up migrants from a sinking wooden vessel in the Mediterranean. Following the pickup, they then refused to take the migrants which included children and a pregnant woman despite being obliged to at least assign a port to them. The migrants were left aboard the oil tanker for over a month during which time three of them tried to commit suicide.

Since the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, the refugee issue has fueled some of the strongest divisions among EU leaders, and repeated attempts to regulate the rules have failed in recent years.

Differences between eastern states such as Hungary and Poland, which resolutely opposed any forced redistribution of asylum seekers, and front-line coastal nations such as Greece and Italy, which had to manage the waves of refugees arriving on their shores, so far have been very strong and attempts to mitigate them have failed.

The Council of Europe has praised the new proposal, calling it a “renewed opportunity to uphold human rights in migration governance.”

“The Pact offers an opportunity for more effective migration governance in Europe based on a commitment to human rights and respect for the dignity of migrants.” said Drahoslav Štefánek, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees. He underlined the heightened duty of care of States towards migrants in vulnerable situations, such as unaccompanied children. “We welcome that the Pact addresses this question” – he added.

Birgit Van Hout, Regional Representative for Europe at the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) stated that “Migration policies are only sustainable if they are rooted in human rights and carried out in accordance with international and regional standards. This includes the prohibition of arbitrary detention and collective expulsions, such as pushbacks. It also means guaranteeing due process, respecting the principle of non-refoulement, and making sure that forced expulsions are safe and dignified. We welcome that the Pact proposes an independent monitoring mechanism to ensure respect for human rights”.