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EU Migration and Asylum Policy
I. European Agenda on Migration
Since May 2015, and in light of increased migration flows as well as the deadly shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, Europe has adopted a more coherent strategy for tackling the phenomenon of migration, with the European Commission drafting the European Migration Agenda. The comprehensive approach to Migration Policy that was launched at the time includes three dimensions: a) the external dimension (cooperation with third countries of transit and origin at all levels), b) border protection, and c) the internal dimension (regulations and directives for the harmonization of reception and asylum systems of MS). Based on this triptych, the European Agenda on Migration addressed: the revision of the Common European Asylum System, implementation of relocation programmes, alleviation of pressure on first-entry Member States, resettlement of those entitled to international protection, actions for the protection of external borders by strengthening the Frontex mandate, cooperation with third countries to improve border management, increased cooperation with third countries on the issue of returns, opening up new routes for legal migration, etc. More importantly, the European Agenda highlights that migration is a challenge for the EU in its entirety and requires a consistent European strategy.
II. New Pact on Μigration and Asylum
On 23rd September 2020, the European Commission presented a set of recommendations and Regulations proposals, aimed at improving the management of migration and asylum in the Member States. At the same time, it announced the withdrawal of the "Dublin IV" Regulation proposal, submitted in 2016.
The proposal for the Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management constitutes the central piece of legislation which sets forth the rules on which a Member State is responsible for examining asylum applications, while it also provides for a compulsory solidarity mechanism in cases of migratory pressure.
Relocation (of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection) is one of the solidarity channels that Member States can tap into. Another is "return sponsorship", which consists of assisting the Member State under pressure to repatriate third-country nationals by communicating with third countries and organizing return operations. The third solidarity channel is the provision of know-how and capacity building.
The mobilization of the solidarity mechanism is a rather time-demanding and bureaucratic process, which means the mechanism’s effectiveness and obligatory nature are being compromised. Major legal and political issues are also raised with the notion of "legal fiction", concerning the non-entry into the national territory of third-country nationals who are to reside in "transit zones", where border registration, asylum and return procedures would take place.
III. Operational situation in the Eastern Mediterranean
The Eastern Mediterranean migratory route is one of the most heavily used. Following the pressure exerted on our borders in February-March 2020 due to the instrumentalization of migration by Turkey, as well as the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, flows at both land and sea borders are currently reduced. In the Aegean and Ionian area, FRONTEX’s Joint Operation "Poseidon" is now active.
Turkey should intensify its efforts to control migration flows, with the ultimate goal of eliminating them, preventing the opening of new routes for illegal migration towards the EU and dismantling the networks of traffickers operating in its territory, as provided for in the EU-Turkey Statement of 18th March 2016. It should also stop instrumentalizing the migration/refugee issue.
IV. External border protection
i) European Border and Coast Guard
On 5.12.2019 the new European Border and Coast Guard Regulation (2019/1896) entered into force, strengthening both the human resources of the Organization (10,000 additional people that will be developed gradually) as well as its mandate. Notably, with its new mandate, Frontex has greater involvement in the field of returns and can launch operations in third countries which do not border EU member states.
ii) Frontex agreements with third countries
Frontex has already signed a status agreement with Albania for the development of Frontex personnel, which entered into force on 1/5/2019 (the first agreement of this nature with a third country). A similar agreement with Montenegro has also entered into force (1.7.2020), while an agreement with Serbia has already been signed, and corresponding agreements with Northern Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are underway.
V. External aspects of migration
i) Cooperation with third countries of transit and origin
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum aims at enhanced cooperation with third countries of origin, transit and hosting of migrants and refugees, using all policy instruments and assigning a coordinating role to the European Commission. The goal is to combat the root causes of migration and forced displacement, to combat human trafficking, to effectively manage borders, to protect people in need of international protection, to strengthen local communities, to enhance legal migration, returns, repatriation and re-integration, including capacity building.
With regard to returns in particular, the EU aims at the effective implementation of the existing readmission agreements and arrangements, through the use of appropriate incentives. One of them concerns Article 25a of the revised Visa Code which provides for measures against third countries in the field of visas, if these countries are found after the assessment of the European Commission to not cooperate sufficiently in the return procedures. Emphasis is also placed on voluntary returns and reintegration.