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A refugee at the Moria camp in Greece, 2020. Alamy Stock Photo

Opinion We and other NGOs are saying no to the EU's migration pact

Jim Clarken of Oxfam Ireland says his organisation and many more are fully against the new EU Migration Pact.

EU LEADERS, MEPs and the European Commission have been negotiating a new Pact on Migration and Asylum since 2020.

With the European Parliament elections fast approaching, they will be keen to show to the electorate that they have something to show for their work – an agreement has been reached, migration will be ‘managed’.
But the new Pact is not just for show, it replaces Ireland’s International Protection Act and is a set of laws we’ll have to live with for years to come. Can we live with this Pact? Can we live with putting children in detention, rules to break rules, increasing the risk of sending people to unsafe countries, removing effective legal remedy and perverse incentives for border countries to illegally pushback people looking for protection?

Oxfam and over 160 civil society organisations from around the EU have come together to say no.
The Pact promises to ‘streamline and harmonise’ arrangements with the Asylum Procedures Regulation. What this Regulation actually introduces is ‘mandatory accelerated procedures’ for certain categories of people. For example;

  • People who come from a country where fewer than 20% of their compatriots are recognised as in need of protection. 
  • People who have travelled on false documents will be put in detention while their application is being processed. 

This last group will include children. 

Inhumane treatment  

We in Oxfam have been to the closed centres on the Greek islands. We have seen the human rights impact of these prison-like centres. It is disappointing to see the Pact mandate this approach for yet more people, including in Ireland. 
The Pact won’t remedy one of the core flaws of the EU asylum system – the Dublin system which means that a person is normally obliged to apply for protection in the first EU country they arrive to.

Predictably, this means that EU member states at the borders receive more applications and have perverse incentives to make sure that people don’t arrive at their shores in the first place. 
The results have been horrific; 

  • violent pushbacks from our EU borders,
  • failure to rescue people drowning,
  • and the criminalisation of humanitarians. 

The Pact continues these perverse incentives. Most refugees in the world (74%,) are hosted in low and middle income countries. The EU has ignored this fact. Indeed, the Pact will facilitate deals with non-EU countries to get them to host people trying to get to EU countries for protection. 

Oxfam works in countries of departure and transit as well as EU countries. We can tell you that this approach simply does not work.

Dubious deals to offshore responsibility move us further away from our values and undermine the EU’s place on the international stage as a voice on human rights.   

Others have grave concerns. EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly’s recent investigation into the tragic drowning of over 600 people off the coast of Greece last June has prompted her to ask if 600 people drowning and no mayday call is how Europe deters migrants

Closed centres  

When the first closed centre opened in Greece, the Greek Minister clarified that closed centres are part of an approach that aims to “discourage them from coming in the first place”. This explicit link between the unlawful detention of people seeking safety and deterring migration is unacceptable.

The Pact does not introduce search and rescue and is set to multiply the number of closed centres. We cannot accept an agreement to treat people who come here so badly to deter more people from coming.  

A good EU asylum law should instead include safe and regular routes to Europe and a proper Search and Rescue mechanism to stop the deaths at sea, agree on a fair way to share responsibility for welcoming people across Europe, invest in better asylum systems and be led by our values.
Ultimately, EU countries, including Ireland, are struggling with relatively modest increases in international protection applications because of our internal issues. Shortages of public services in health, education and housing are a result of extreme inequality here in Ireland. 

We don’t have a migration crisis, we have a state capacity crisis, which is being caused by extreme inequality.   

An increasing gap between rich and poor in the EU is creating divided societies and stoking populist sentiment, especially when states are not able to provide timely, accessible and affordable public services.  The EU’s five richest billionaires increased their wealth by 76 per cent since 2020, while all billionaires in the EU increased their accumulated wealth by one-third, reaching 1.9 trillion euros last year.  
 At the same time, 99 per cent of the EU’s population has become poorer.   Oxfam has estimated that a progressive wealth tax of up to 5% on the EU’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could collect 286.5 billion euros annually, a good start to addressing state capacity issues in the EU. 

Agreeing a Migration Pact that betrays our core values will not address inequality or increase the state’s capacity to manage migration appropriately, but it does serve the purpose of making politicians appear to be taking a ‘firm’ line on migration, while further demonising the most vulnerable in our society.

Jim Clarken is CEO of Oxfam Ireland.


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

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