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Fears over asylum-seekers’ rights as EU leaders hails migration deal breakthrough

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Fears over asylum-seekers' rights as EU leaders hails migration deal breakthrough

The bill, meant to strengthen France’s ability to deport foreigners considered undesirable, passed the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, with a 349-186 vote late Tuesday. It had been adopted by the Senate.

FP Staff December 20, 2023 23:55:29 IST Fears over asylum-seekers' rights as EU leaders hails migration deal breakthrough

Representational image. Reuters

European Union leaders and top officials hailed a significant breakthrough in talks on Wednesday regarding new rules to control migration. However, critics argued that the proposed reforms could weaken the rights of asylum-seekers and potentially lead to ethically questionable agreements with countries from where people leave to reach Europe.

It’s truly a historic day, said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, flanked by lawmakers responsible for the key parts of the agreement. With migration likely to be a hot campaign issue ahead of EU elections next June, Metsola said, it was vital to make a breakthrough.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described it as a very important decision that will relieve the burden on countries that are particularly affected including Germany.

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Snchez told his country’s parliament that the pact will allow us to have an improved, more humane and better-coordinated management of our frontiers and migration flows.

Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the deal improves control over migration with better asylum procedures at the external borders of the EU. Far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders aims to replace Rutte after sweeping to victory in last month’s elections on an anti-migration platform.

After overnight talks, visibly exhausted EU lawmakers emerged expressing relief that agreement was found on the core political elements of the Pact on Asylum and Migration a major overhaul of rules that many hope will address the challenges posed by migrant arrivals over the last decade.

The breakthrough was announced just after the French parliament approved a divisive immigration bill intended to strengthen France’s ability to deport foreigners considered undesirable. The vote prompted a heated debate after the far-right decided to back the measure.

However, in a display of opposition to the draft legislation, Macron’s health minister resigned, while some left-leaning lawmakers within the centrist alliance chose to abstain or vote against the bill. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who championed the bill, said the government wants “greater firmness against foreign offenders.”

In recent years, as hope for reforms languished, the EU focused on outsourcing the challenge by offering economic, political and travel incentives to countries where people leave or transit to get to Europe.

A deal with Tunisia, where authorities have been accused of dumping migrants in the desert, was a recent example. Italy has also concluded a bilateral agreement to send people to Albania, but that faces legal challenges. The EU is in talks with Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and Nigeria, among others.

Rights groups warned that Wednesday’s agreement will only entrench that kind of thinking. Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said that it will set back European asylum law for decades to come, and cause more people to be put into de-facto detention at EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations.

States will be able to simply pay to strengthen external borders, or fund countries outside the EU to prevent people from reaching Europe, Geddie added.

Oxfam’s EU migration expert Stephanie Pope worried that the pact would encourage more detention, including of children and families in prison-like centres. They have also slammed the door on those seeking asylum with substandard procedures, fast-tracked deportation and gambled with people’s lives.

The secretary general of the Caritas Europa charity group, Maria Nyman, said the deal shows that EU countries prefer to shift their asylum responsibility to non-EU countries, prevent arrivals and speed up return, exposing migrants to human rights violations.

With inputs from agencies.

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