What evolution of asylum policies in European countries since 2015?
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Europe of asylum in the aftermath of the health crisis
The pandemic seems to have put everything on hold: the arrivals of migrants in Europe, their movement between Member States which have closed their borders, even the exercise of the right of asylum in countries such as France, which have gone as far as to close its registration offices for asylum seekers. And almost the debate on these issues. The decline of the epidemic is a good time to take stock.
Is it enough, as the new European Commission did in April, to invite Member States to restart registration and processing asylum applications, Dublin transfers, and voluntary or forced return policies?
The articles in this issue of “European Insights” do not intend to draw conclusions from the still ongoing health crisis on the new mindset of European societies toward the reception of migrants and asylum seekers, on the needs for protection or on the experience gained from solidarity. They focus on the results and trends observed since 2015: the ongoing negotiation of the reform of the “CEAS”, analysed by MEP Sylvie Guillaume; trends in Germany, a country which was in the front line of the Syrian crisis, and which sometimes serves as a model in France owing to its accommodation and planning capacities, in a country which is nevertheless highly decentralized – but at the price of freedom limitation of asylum seekers, as can be seen in the Bavarian Ankerzentren; solidarity between Member States, which lacked during the Syrian crisis and in relations to tragedies in the Mediterranean, which demonstrated that production of standards does not make a policy; hence the multiplication of tragedies on the outskirts of Europe, in Greece as well as in Libya.
The periphery is perhaps where European migration policy issues will first arise, where so many migrants are stranded, where we will want to find solutions, and where the temptation might be to respond to European societies’ desire for protection by increasing the involvement of third countries. The question of the “externalisation” of asylum applications is likely to come up again.
A debate on Turkey is already emerging. At France terre d’asile, we condemned, in 2016, the EU-Turkey deal, which has kept a large proportion of Syrian refugees in that country. Today, the idea is emerging that since Turkey has become the de facto destination country for these refugees, who are not only in camps, the EU should work to consolidate this state of affairs by providing more assistance for reception and by standardizing its management on the ground under the aegis of the Global Compact adopted by the United Nations in 2018 on the proposal of UNHCR (see the article by Jérôme Vignon published by the Jacques Delors Institute in April). The opposite reaction, which can be found in these columns, assimilates this idea to the already often criticized externalisation, already shaped in the European 2004 Hague programme, designed to encourage the development of reception capacities in the EU’s neighbouring countries, or very recently promoted by the Italian government with the Libyan authorities.
This brings us back to the difficulty of judging what it is legitimate for European countries to do with third countries. This requires a close look at the situation. We must remember that the vast majority of the world’s displaced persons reside in a country neighbouring their country of origin, without, most of the time, seeing it as a mere transit country. This may be true even of a neighbouring country of the EU, such as Tunisia, which France terre d’asile knows well.
What to do when a country like Turkey, a neighbour of Europe, has become both a destination and a transit country? This deserves consideration.
Thierry Le Roy, President of France terre d’asile