We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere gather at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Alamy Stock Photo
fortress europe

Migration Pact will damage EU's reputation as a human rights defender, experts say

The fact that these policies are now legally enshrined means it will be harder to challenge them, Doctors Without Borders said.

HUMANITARIAN ORGANISATIONS HAVE condemned the European Union’s new Pact on Migration and Asylum which was passed by the EU Parliament last week, saying it further entrenches existing policies that harm those seeking international protection while also undermining Europe’s reputation for upholding human rights. 

After years of negotiations, the agreement on EU immigration policy now legally codifies policies and practices that have already been in place for years in different parts of the bloc. 

The Pact has a number of aspects that NGOs have criticised, including the use of detention centres at borders (including for children) and the increased use of surveillance technology based on AI systems.

It also establishes a mechanism which will see border countries that receive more migrants than others be able to send people elsewhere within the EU, or receive payment from member states instead. 

Additionally, the Pact contains an emergency measure that can suspend people’s right to seek asylum in a state, which is ostensibly aimed at combating the “weaponization” of migrants. The requirements for invoking the crisis regulation have been described as very loosely defined. 

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said Ireland will “fully comply” with the Pact and that he “very much” believes that Ireland needs a firmer system in place in relation to migration.

The fact that these policies are now legally enshrined means it will be harder to challenge them, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) humanitarian advisor Chloe Marshall Denton told The Journal

She said the pact had been adopted despite long standing objections from civil society organisations, including MSF. 161 such organisations signed an open letter calling on MEPs to vote against the Pact.

In that letter, the signatories said the agreement is “a continuation of a decade of policy that has led to the proliferation of rights violations in Europe”. 

“Moreover, it will have devastating implications for the right to international protection in the bloc and greenlights abuses across Europe including racial profiling, default de facto detention and pushbacks.”

A pushback is the illegal practice of forcing a person to turn back while they try to seek safety in a country. It has been documented on Greek islands and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, as well as in Eastern European countries that share borders with Belarus. 

The “de facto detention” refers to the new “screening process” in the Pact, during which people who entered the country irregularly will have to be available to authorities, meaning they will be detained. 

Marshall Denton said: “For the last year, we’ve really been raising our concerns about what the potential implications would be, the fact that very clearly it’s going to harm people who are the most in need, people who are seeking protection at EU borders.”

“And despite this, of course, EU politicians have been maintaining that the pact is sort of a solution to the so-called migration crisis. But from what we see on the ground, we know very well that it’s only going to cause more harm for people in need.”

Amnesty International’s head of advocacy in Europe Eve Geddie told The Journal that the pact takes the worst examples of hostile immigration policy from individual member states and makes those the new standard across the bloc.

“Our view is this is not a pact that will serve the people of Europe or people coming to Europe. What it’s going to do is it will really codify some of the worst parts of the status quo,” she said.

The implications beyond Europe’s borders are also of concern for Amnesty, she said. 

“For a region like Europe to be sending the message globally that this is the approach we will take, we’re basically downgrading the right to asylum, there’s a global impact to that because other countries are going to see Europe doing that and it does lower the bar globally.”

The EU’s reputation for upholding human rights and its criticism of practices in other parts of the world will also be undermined by the Pact, she said.


“It will weaken the right to asylum in Europe. It will normalise immigration detention, including for children and families. It’s going to lead to an increase in racial profiling, and ushering in some really harmful digital surveillance technologies at the border,” Geddie said. 

The EDRi, a collection of organisations that advocate for digital rights in Europe, described the Pact as the EU’s “deadliest set of migration policies in history”.

Chloé Bethélémy of EDRi said the Pact “heralds the start of an even more hostile and dehumanising migration regime – one that weaponises large databases to track and deport people in dire situations at the borders of and across the EU”.

For Geddie, the use of AI systems for facial recognition is a particular concern as such systems have been shown to carry racial biases within them. 

The EDRi has also criticised the EU’s AI Act, saying “it is weak and even enables the use of risky AI systems when it comes to migration. Moreover, it creates a dangerous precedent by creating a parallel legal framework for the use of AI by law enforcement, migration and national security authorities, thus exempting such uses from the rules and safeguards within the AI Act”. 

Geddie said: “Our experience of these types of technology and the business model behind them, is that these types of harmful surveillance technologies don’t stop at border. They will, you know, slowly creep into I think policing, security and use against EU citizens in the future.”

She said it is “flying in the face” of evidence and assessments of what’s working and what’s not. 

Detention and ‘Legal fiction’

Geddie said there are many examples of alternatives to detention across EU member states, particularly at local levels, that are community-based and non-custodial. This kind of process is both more dignified and cheaper, she said.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, has criticised the Pact, saying it introduces the “legal fiction of non-entry” into the screening process, which he said considers individuals as “not authorised to enter the territory” of any EU Member States despite being physically present in the territory of the EU.

He said this attempt to deny the physical presence of migrants and asylum seekers in the territory of EU states and border areas “risks placing EU law in variance with international human rights and refugee laws as States cannot revoke their obligations towards persons under their jurisdiction”. 

Gonzaléz Morales also pointed to the part of the Pact that allows states to detain people who arrive in an EU country for screening. They will not be permitted to officially enter the country while this process is ongoing. This can include the detention of children, something that has drawn particular criticism from civil society groups. 

“According to international human rights law, detention for immigration purposes should be a measure of last resort, only permissible for adults for the shortest period of time, with the possibility of administrative and judicial review and when no less restrictive measure is available,” he said.

He pointed out that NGOs do not have an explicit right to access such detention centres, as outlined in the text of the law. 

Eve Geddie said that civil society organisations already have difficulty accessing Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCACs) on the Greek islands, which are essentially the model for the kind of detention centres envisaged in the Pact.

“So rather than this being like, oh that’s bad practice in Greece which we need to learn from, now it’s been codified in the pact,” she said.

“I think rather than holding countries to account for bad practices and pushing for a better approach, it seems to be going the other way.”

Chloe Marshall Denton of MSF sees it the same way, saying that the Greek example shows the EU is “essentially repackaging and institutionalizing policies that already exist”. 

For Geddie, the use of detention centres and surveillance technology, as well as the term “weaponization” being in the Pact’s text, all show that the EU treats immigration almost solely as a security issue, rather than one that falls across multiple areas of society. 

This is perhaps best evidenced by the change in policy in the Mediterranean Sea since 2016, where search and rescue operations led by member states have been replaced with deals supporting coast guard agencies in North Africa. 

People attempting the dangerous voyage across the sea are intercepted by these agencies and often end up in detention centres in appalling conditions, like in Libya, where they are at risk torture, disease and human trafficking. 

As Amnesty told The Journal previously, these arrangements with countries like Libya, Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt have the effect of trapping people there so that they never arrive in the EU in the first place.

The new Pact and a recent deal with Egypt that saw EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visit Cairo for a photo opportunity make it clear that externalising immigration processes will remain a pillar of EU border border policy. 

“They’re working increasingly now to get these agreements in place to stop arrivals so that the cracks and shortcomings of this Pact aren’t clear,” said Geddie.



Need more clarity and context on how migration is being discussed in Ireland, the UK and the EU? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to finding good information online.