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Slight look into the medium and long-term alternatives for EU migration

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Slight look into the medium and long-term alternatives for EU migration

“What should be and, what will be the future of asylum in Europe ? »

Dorine Manson, moderator of the opening panel and Managing Director of The Dutch Charity Lotteries

Ahead of the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) gathered on October 23rd and 24th in Brussels. The agenda dealt with the “Future of Asylum in Europe” in an uplifted European political context. For the third annual ECRE/UNHCR Consultations, fruitful discussions, opportunities and collaborations were addressed during multiple workshops by representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs), UNHCR officers, EU member states and the European Commission.

The third Annual General Conference (AGC) jointly held by ECRE/UNHCR lasted two days-long in Brussels. The AGC gathered 250 stakeholders from varying spheres (civil society organizations, EU Member States, the EU Commission, UNHCR, academics).

I. The 2019-2024 migration portfolio: a refreshing EU political landscape ? 

 At the core of EU institutions, Brussels was also called “the house of change” for the future of asylum and migration. We should then see to what extent this statement is accurate in the weeks preceding the sitting of the newly elected EU Commissioners. In this crucial moment of change in the EU political landscape, three new EU Commissioners were designated for the migration portfolio: Ylva Johansson at the Home Affairs, Margaritis Schinas the new Vice-President responsible for “Protecting our European Way of Life”  and, with lesser importance, Jutta Upilainen for the Institutional Partnerships at the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO). As a side note, the incoming European Commission Chief, Ursula von der Leyen agreed on Wednesday 13 of November to modify Margaritis Schinas title from “Protecting our European Way of Life” to “Promoting the European Way of Life”. This decision was mainly taken due to the widespread criticism ongoing throughout media and the will of taking “a bit of pressure off” the hearings for the commissioner candidates.

The three of them were tasked by the new President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen of individual portfolios, priorities and institutional responsibilities for the period 2019-2024. Since 2015 European Agenda on Migration carried by the Juncker Commission as an immediate response to the contextual “refugee crisis”, President von der Leven herself acknowledges the need for an actualized and a more comprehensive approach to migration. She underlines the necessity of including both countries of origin and transit, as well as the consolidation of legal pathways for asylum-seekers. The mission letters issued by the President to the three Commissioners, in September 2019, underscore major points: including border enforcement and security-driven approaches; the shift towards a more “pragmatic” migration management beneficial for countries of origin, transit and destination; and the expansion of legal pathways. Commissioners Johanssen’ mission letter is primarily upholding the development of a “New Pact on Migration and Asylum”, the reform of the EU asylum system, sustainable Search and Rescue (S&R) efforts combined to a proper fight against smuggling and trafficking, resettlements within the European Union, and develop stronger cooperation with third-countries for a better system of readmission and return. However, Commissioner Urpilainen’s mission letter raises worrying concerns about conditionality. To reach comprehensive partnerships with countries of migration, origin, and transit, she should “bring[ing] together all instruments, tools, and leverage” and “be ready to adapt bilateral funding to achieve our objectives on migration management.” Less emphasis is made on legal pathways than using all “means necessary”, with little in return, to secure ongoing and upcoming agreements.

Despite the new migration agenda settled “on paper” by the EU Commission, members of the civil society and UNHCR remain hopeful for change. EU Commissioners haven’t arrived yet and the next EU migration policy is far from being set in stone. The future of asylum in Europe can constantly be influenced, discussed and challenged by their advocacy, actions, and consultations.

II. The last dinosaurs believing in humanitarianism ?

“Are we the last dinosaurs believing in humanitarianism and human rights?”, wondered Morten Kjareum, Chair of the ECRE Board while referring to the upcoming cocktail happening at dawn at the Dinosaurs Gallery of the National Museum of Sciences. “I don’t think so!”, he added. “It’s a mirror of what we should try to avoid: extinction. We should move ahead to survive”.

The ECRE/UNHCR Annual General Conference, assembled great minds to foster change at the local, national and European policy levels dealing with migration and asylum-seeking. The hopefulness of this Conference was kindly reminded at the beginning while mentioning the gradual changes in the political landscape – including the drop of the extreme-right wing in Austria. Politics inevitably fuels civil society discussions with questions, opportunities, challenges and other concerns. As a consortium of hundreds of NGOs (104 members in 2019), gathered throughout Europe, ECRE intends to take the lead of consultations with unanimous approval. From “dysfunctional to shortsighted” approaches, policymakers should choose “progressive and responsible” ones by taking into accounts two unavoidable conditions for any future approaches: solidarity and saving lives. Civil society should then be on the front to call out policymakers making the wrong choices. 

Using the ECRE/UNHCR Consultations as a platform, UNHCR’s representatives often mentioned the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) about to be held in Geneva at the beginning of December. According to them, the GRF is a “historic opportunity to translate the principles of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) into concrete actions”. UNHCR’s Senior Policy Officer and Associate, such as Stefen Meier (UNHCR, REEUA) and Desislava Ivanova (UNHCR, RREUA) haven’t forgotten to recall every stakeholder about the contributions they can make ahead, and, after the Summit. The European Union has already decided to co-sponsor five areas: education, burden, and responsibility-sharing, job and livelihoods, solutions and refugee-responses, demonstrating their commitment to supporting the Global Compact on Refugees. NGOs and the Member States are convened to “showcase good practices” and make “joint-pledges” respecting the GCR. As usual, UNHCR is incentivizing the stakeholders to participate in the exchange of free promotion from them. Indeed, several representatives recalled in their monotone tone the “digital board” and other tools used to make the “contents publicly known” by everybody. During discussions in off, civil society representatives and – even UN ones – severely criticized the Global Refugee Compact. As it relies on a small number of States, the latter is seen as highly-politically charged but unhelpful in terms of refugee assistance. 

Participants especially underline the need to an increased compliance with human rights. Varying specific points were stressed out throughout the overall meeting, such as the need for a functioning Common European Asylum-System (CEAS), safe channels to reach shores safely and with dignity, extra-policies focused on the root causes of displacement and prevention, support to agreements on disembarkation and relocation, and the importance of revising the EU-Turkey deal. The latter was particularly called out by CSOs. Moussa Sangari representative of the Greek Forum of Refugees as well as other refugee-led organizations reminded the audience of the catastrophic situation happening on Greek Island. Both Milka Yemane, Director of Stichting Lemat and Catherine Woollard, the ECRE’s Director condemned the EU-Turkey deal and the increased situation of distress for asylum-seekers arrived on the shores of the Greek “hotspots”. In a context of escalating violence in Northern Syria due to Turkey’s incursion ahead of its neighbor frontiers, associating with untrustworthy leaders is particularly questioned.  Thus, to avoid seeing the Union as a complicit in human rights violations, it must be ensured that actions or relation to third countries fully respect the rights and principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (including Article 18) and the international obligations of the Union and the Member States.

Then, the next chapter will question the funds allocated outside of the EU towards third countries and the EU neighborhood. Should we rethink the allocation of EU funding for an effective, solidary and responsible migration policy?

III. Outspending on Migration ?

Unlike the new migration, portfolio settled for the 2019-2024 supporting strengthened cooperation with countries of origin and transit, ECRE’s members, as well as UNHCR, settled their vision on what should be the future of EU funding for migration outside the European Union. Specific speakers reminded the importance of an EU funding dedicated to asylum, migration and integration and the political importance of its allocation by Member States towards each element. 

In one of the last ECRE’s policy-note entitled “Outspending on Migration” giving recommendations on founding for migration outside the EU for the next EU Multiannual financial framework (MFF) (2021-2027).  The “external migration management” component has been introduced for all three Justice and Home Affairs Funds, the Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF), the Integrated Border Management Fund (IBMF) as well as the Internal Security Fund (ISF). Member States seem particularly divided over the Neighbourhood, Development, and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and the division of the 8.9 billion euros between “migration-related spending outside the EU” and the type of coordination between internal and external funding for migration. The 10% of which allocated to “migration” is the reflection of the EU’s priority to tackle migration as explains the note. Indeed, EU Member States prefer to address (the relative) “migratory pressure” on Europe rather than focus on the needs resulting from forced displacement. ECRE advises instead to replace States vision with both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM) based approaches. In other words, effective spending should pass by the promotion of regular pathways and mobility in third countries to Europe. 

In its opening speech, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR Regional Representative for European Affairs (RREUA) also pointed at the MFF. He raised three main ways to do so: first, “dedicated support to transit countries and others to develop their asylum-systems in line with international standards” especially by targeting “EU neighborhood and candidate countries”, he added. Then, Gonzalo called for a minimum of 30% spend to support integration via stronger partnerships at both national and EU levels of governance. Last but not least, he emphasized on the use of the Asylum and Migration Fund (AMF) outside of the EU, saying that “[it] should be limited to measures inherently linked to the internal dimension of asylum and migration policies”. He then detailed them with the following, “returns, integration, resettlement, protection pathways and legal migration”.

IV. Refreshing initiatives on asylum

Subsidiary initiatives were also advanced during the Workshops such as the role of community sponsorships in the resettlement and complementary pathways and the inclusion of individuals refugees and refugees-led organizations to change the narratives and influence the orientation of decision-making processes. 

From the left to the right : Hala Akari (The Swedish Syrian Alliance), Sophie Magennis (UNHCR-RREUA), Dorine Manson (The Dutch Charity Lotteries), Milka Yemane (Stichting Lemat), Catherine Woollard (ECRE)

During a workshop on “EU funding: incentivizing and relocation” led by a co-chair between ECRE/UNHCR, Leïla Bodeux, representative of Caritas Europa, addressed the question of community sponsorships in Europe. In a joint contribution with ICMC Europe, she developed the necessity to create an extensive network of organizations making use community sponsorships in Europe. Different types of sponsorships already exist such as family-reunification (mainly in France, Germany, Ireland), resettlement-based (UK, Germany, Ireland, and Spain) and humanitarian corridors (starting with Italy in 2015).  Inevitably, community-sponsorships are raising the question of the state’s asylum responsibilities. Supporters of this approach are clear: community-sponsorships should be seen as an additional approach to resettlement, additional channel solidarity and not the replacement of the State. Using the three-year strategy established in Canada, she highlighted that this scheme has shown “a better outcome [for refugees]” and helped create “more cohesive societies”. Community-sponsorships underscores the need for pre-arrival preparation and strong coordination with local partners as well as the best “match” possible between sponsored refugees and communities. Thus, this dominantly bottom-led approach, coming from local stakeholders could play a central role in the future of the overall EU resettlement system.

Finally, multiple times was raised the much-needed inclusion of refugees within decision-making processes as a way to rightfully target the needs of refugees and change the overall narratives. Both CSOs and UNHCR reminded the audience of the necessity of having refugees coming at the table of negotiations on their future. The aforementioned speaker, Milka Yemane, particularly stressed out the “incultural awareness” floating in Europe. State representatives and policymakers are inattentive to the different needs raised by individuals seeking a country of destination. Thus, a new approach led by refugees themselves, organized in refugee-led organizations, should be a preferred way to identify those needs. According to the Swedish Syrian Alliance, represented by their Project Coordinator, Hala Akari, this alternative to the actual decision-making processes will be fundamental to change narratives from “problem” to “opportunity” in the eyes of the Union, transit countries and the public opinion. The impressive Anila Noor, a Gender and Migration Policy Consultant, Managing Director of New Women Connectors, also underscored the necessity of developing collaborative discussions including women.  Indeed, according to her, « If you integrate a woman who is refugee, you integrate the next generation of Europeans because these women are often mothers and will teach their children. »

Sonia CHABANE

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