Europe Daily Bulletin No. 12764

17 July 2021
SECTORAL POLICIES / Interview on migration
Birgit Sippel believes that it is time to try to move forward with “the most serious countries” on Asylum Pact rather than seeking consensus at all costs
Brussels, 16/07/2021 (Agence Europe)

Birgit Sippel (S&D, Germany) is rapporteur in the European Parliament on the Migration and Asylum Pact Regulation on the ‘screening’ of migrants at the EU’s external borders who will have to pass through security checks for five days before being redirected to an asylum or return procedure. She hopes to present her work in late September or early October. She explained to EUROPE the main difficulties with the text and said that we should start to consider moving forward on the Pact with the most willing countries, rather than seeking consensus among the EU-27 at all costs. (Interview by Solenn Paulic)

Agence Europe - What are the most sensitive issues raised by this ‘screening’ Regulation? Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are concerned about the fiction of non-entry, which implies that migrants arriving at the EU’s borders are not yet considered to be on European territory.
Birgit Sippel - The legal fiction of non-entry is not totally new, but it has very broad effects. This will mean that nearly everybody arriving at a border going to the screening is deemed to ‘not have entered the European Union’. It is very similar to the transit zones that we have in airports. 

And that of course, means you might not have all the rights that you have in the European Union, but it also might lead to big detention centres. Because how will you stick to this legal fiction of non entry if you are not ensuring that these people will not leave a special area?

And that’s even more true not only for the screening; but also for the next step in the asylum procedures Regulation, this legal fiction of non entry is also foreseen.
Yet the European Commission regularly says that its proposals will not lead to the multiplication of detention centres.

This is partly true: the ‘screening’ text is not clearly talking about detention; there is something very vague in the recitals but the text leaves it totally in the hands of the Member States on how to ensure this legal fiction.

But we see already in the Member States, not only in Greece, but also in Hungary, Croatia, or partly in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, that detention really means that people are in enclosed buildings, not allowed to leave, not allowed to have contact to people outside. 

So it might not be the aim of the Commission, but the practice shows that this is happening. Member States who already do it can of course, continue or even broaden this use of detention. 

The question is: what will these enclosed centres look like? Will it be these big centres for thousands of people? What about the health situation? What about educational services for children, especially for the longer term? 

And there is also the important question of whether NGOs, lawyers will have access to all these people in these camps; so that they are properly informed. 

And we also have to see the link with the missing question of solidarity within the screening. If there is no obligation, no mandatory system at one point or the other, to relocate people from a country with an external border to other places, these are additional tasks for countries of first arrival. This could put them under even more pressure and thus be another reason for detention.

How can we ensure that the rights of people who arrive and are screened are respected? The Commission proposes an independent monitoring system set up by the Member State.

An independent monitoring mechanism is of course a good idea and should be seen as a useful tool. But there are no clear preconditions, no clear descriptions.

Looking back into the last months and years, there is some good reason to believe that Member States might not fully respect fundamental rights.

To that extent, it would be good if it were not only the States themselves and their authorities that organised this monitoring, but if they had the support of an agency such as the FRA.

They should also allow NGOs and lawyers to enter places where screening and asylum procedures are carried out to report on the actual situation. Here we need a little more ‘meat’ in this proposal of the monitoring mechanism.

The Regulation requires that all these health and safety checks be done within five days. Is this feasible? 

The question is: what are the resources at the places where the people arrive. If people have special needs or are vulnerable, is this possible in five days? 

When it comes to physical or mental health problems, you might not find out in five days if there are people who have suffered, whether they have suffered torture, rape or other things, or whether they have special needs. 

Maybe within these five days after arrival, people are under stress, they don’t trust anybody, they might not talk about it. 

The second question is the one of resources, experienced staff. The Commission has said that if screening cannot be done within five days, it can be prolonged for 10 days. And even if it’s not ready, after 10 days, no problem, you can nevertheless go to the next step. And then the screening will be continued. So what’s then the sense of the screening procedure period if nevertheless you can continue the screening in the other procedures? 

If this screening cannot be finalised within five days, a decision can still be taken as to whether to direct you to a proper asylum procedure or to a return procedure. That’s an important decision for the life of the people. But what happens if the screening is not finished? 

There is also a loophole. There is no chance to challenge or to check if the information that is put into the form are correct. 

The Southern countries only see additional obligations and ask in exchange for more solidarity guarantees to move forward on the Pact. Are they right?

We should think about what the European Union is. All our governments are proudly saying we are based on values on democracy on Rule of law. We have just celebrated 70 years of the Geneva Convention. But what does it mean, in practice, if we don’t show solidarity and find a common answer, both to migration and asylum? It should be evident, that we all together, deal with this situation and take our responsibilities. 

And thus, I really understand the situation of countries of first arrivals. If you look into the text, both of the screening, but also the asylum procedures and the other files, once again, there is nothing on real common solidarity in the sense of relocation of people. 

The impression given by the proposals is that, in the countries of first arrival, they will have to accommodate people who are arriving, do the screening, do the asylum procedure. In cases where people don’t get asylum, they will have to do the return procedure. So people will continue to stay in this country. And even for those who get an asylum status, there is nothing foreseen in terms of mandatory scheme or relocation. So everything is happening in the country of first arrival. I do understand that they want to see some more binding elements of solidarity. 

Work in the EU Council is progressing slowly. Will the EU succeed in its asylum and migration reform this time?

Perhaps we should not try desperately to convince all Member States; maybe it’s better to have a result with a big number of Member States, but not with all of them. 

Compromise should not be the only objective. We must also look at the concrete outcome. It may only be possible to move forward with 15-20 countries, the ‘most serious’ ones. In 2015, on relocation, a decision was taken and not all Member States participated. This could be a way out.

And we now have conditionality of funds. So if we have a solution, we can say: ‘Don’t want to take part? Okay fine but of course you will get less money from the funds’. I think it is high time we do use these instruments.