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The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, for and by the European Union (Part 1)

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, for and by the European Union: a perspective on the possible impact of its application on the migratory realities of Melilla.


Many reactions have emerged in recent months following the publication of the questionable New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Several of these reports, writings, opinion pieces and publications highlight, and rightly so, the scepticism or, at least, the concern that those of us who work in migration contexts have about the main purpose of the proposal presented by the European Commission on September 23rd last year. Based on the latest statements regarding the Pact and the realities that we have been observing at various points along the EU's external borders, it seemed important to us to explain how we believe the implementation of the measures outlined would affect the Southern Border, in the absence of detailed knowledge of how they are intended to be put into practice.

"The old system no longer works"

These are the words of the President of the European Commission herself, Ursula von der Leyen. It is clear, and we are not going to go into depth here, that previous attempts to work together in the face of the migratory challenges during the 21st century has left much to be said about the on the field practices of the European Union. Starting with the "Cayucan Crisis" in the early 2000s, which was resolved in exchange for international cooperation agreements with Senegal and Mauritania (for purposes unrelated to development aid), and including the blockade of the eastern migratory routes, agreements with countries such as Turkey and Libya, until the obvious failure of the Common European Asylum System of 2014, in terms of management, identification, assistance and protection of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as the Dublin III Regulations which have failed to regulate the competence among Member States to examinatine asylum applications. The arrival in 2015 of more than one million asylum seekers on European territory revealed, more than a "migration crisis" as both the media and politicians have called it, a crisis of governance [1] of the European institutions, unable to join forces to assume their legal and moral obligations to receive and respect basic rights, in a manner consistent with the founding principles of the EU. The response given in the same year, which was mainly articulated in the European Agenda on Migration, was a success for some as it led to a gradual reduction in arrivals, reaching scarcely 120,000 people by 2019 (comparable to the situation prior to the crisis).

This only goes to show, however, that the old system no longer works and that the solutions proposed so far, despite seeking "sound and effective management of migration", have failed miserably, partly because the national interests of each Member State have prevailed over collective and coordinated action by the European Union, which is moving further and further away from its supranational unity. For this reason, voices have emerged, such as that of the IOM, which have welcomed the arrival of a new pact that "revitalises and demonstrates a genuine spirit of collaboration and mutual support in the face of today's migratory realities''.

"At the moment we have a system that does not exist and that must change”.

With these words, Margaritis Schinás, Commissioner for the Promotion of the European Way of Life, pointed in the same direction as we have been commenting: the lack of agreements between European countries has paralysed the system, the consequences of which have surfaced, but which have been particularly felt by the people trapped in the "refugee camps", CATEs, CETIs, detention centres, etc., of the main refugee and asylum seeking countries, those that are geographically on the front line. That is why the proposed new pact calls for more "balance between responsibility and solidarity", more "effectiveness in terms of returns", "more cooperation with developing countries and countries of transit".

CETI de Melilla
CETI of Melilla

However, it is questionable whether what the New Deal really proposes is a comprehensive reform of the system that would restore its existence or whether, on the contrary, it advocates "more of the same". In a way, the Commission's proposals seem to continue with the pre-existing logic of security, migratory control and externalisation of borders, which could already be seen in the annual reports of the European Commission, where there was an underlying "yes but no'' on migratory matters. Like someone trying to justify that things are being done well, but that they need more and to improve. At this point, one might ask: more of what and how?

More than some concepts that, a priori, may seem positive and even necessary, such as cooperation, collaboration, solidarity, sound governance, planning, preparation, coherence and trust. Terms, after all, that could in fact provide a solution to the serious structural problems that Europe presents in the reception and integration of migrants within our borders. However, these are words which, analysed within the context in which this new Pact is being launched, may also hide strategies of securitisation of borders, restriction of freedoms, and support for racist and colonial structures that have survived in European states for centuries. Other less "fictitious" concepts of the New Pact, such as improved border management, the strengthening of FRONTEX, the effectiveness of returns and interments, strategic partners that manage irregular migration and development aid dependent on the migratory dimension of the beneficiary country, point directly to the perpetuation of this old logic that divides people into categories according to their citizenship, a kind of "proto-right" or a key to access other rights.

The false dichotomy between asylum seeker and economic migrant

"The new distinction between asylum and migration suggests old hostilities"

Despite the fact that the Pact talks of a "new beginning" for the EU's task of "building a system to manage and normalise migration in the long term and based fully on European values and international law", the narrative focuses on the old dilemma of the one who migrates because he wants to versus the one who migrates because he has no other choice. Like all binaries, the Manichean, is simplistic and not very appropriate to the reality of global migration. When the Pact calls for a reform of the asylum procedures to make them "faster and more effective", it is leaving behind the guarantees of a system that should make the individuality of each history prevail above all. The Commission's priority seems clearly to be the opposite of this, however, in directing the "efficiency" of the system towards a prior sweep of European borders (mandatory initial screening), whereby it is quickly determined which applications are worth studying and which are not.

"Applications with little chance of being accepted must be examined quickly without the need to enter the territory of the Member State legally", says the Commission, hoping perhaps that the reader will not realise that such an analysis ends up being less reliable and that many people will therefore be left by the wayside. The profiles, according to the text of the pact itself, would be defined by the origin of "countries with low recognition rates which are unlikely to need protection or which pose a threat to national security". This preconditioning of the examination of an application for international protection is not only contrary to current international standards and to the European Union's own, which require an individual analysis of each application and reject the possibility of screening applications on the basis of criteria such as origin of nationality, but also falls within the scope of the erroneous debate on the legitimacy of migration. Bob Sutcliffe gave warning on the subject in 2009 already: "the alleged crisis of political asylum applications during the last decade leads to a collective and individual policy of the host countries that tightens the conditions of asylum" [2]. In other words, underneath the discourse of speed, efficiency and early detection that the Commission is raising is a logic of delegitimization of migrants, whereby their stories are questioned to ridiculous levels in order to categorize them as "economic" and therefore disposable migrants.

Along these lines, the Commission points out in its conclusions to the New Covenant the need to provide "the clarity and precision necessary to achieve mutual trust, with firm and fair rules for establishing which persons need international protection and which others do not have the right to stay", as if these five grounds for international protection were the only valid way to migrate; as if they were not, in most cases, inextricably linked to economic matters. This logic is perverse - besides the fact that the increase in asylum applications is a predictable consequence of the general hardening of migration policies - because the current state of the world makes it predictable that the number of asylum applications will increase, although this is not easy to accept for those who want to present the "new order" as a better and safer world. After all, although economic migrants can exist without political motives, every political migrant is necessarily an economic migrant at the same time, since in most cases the persecution that underpins international protection has an economic impact on the life of the individual and his or her family.

Furthermore there are even points where the Commission itself does not seem to be very clear about the differentiation that it advocates, for example, when it calls for the creation of legal channels to Europe, within the framework of collaboration with international partners, and the focus is not on the type of context from which migrants leave, or the reasons that drive them to migrate, but on the "labour markets of the member states", or when it suggests restricting visa policies because of the misuse of applications for international protection by nationals of visa-free states. The Commission's intended approach of "legal migration in response to the talent needs of our economies and the need for integration of our societies" shows us how, once again, Europe is looking inward and getting lost in the complexities of a world that goes far beyond the needs of our labour market.

Valla de Melilla
Fence in the Spanish Southern Border (Melilla)

In Melilla, we have been watching this happen for some time. Migrants are divided into two groups, those who have the right to come and those who do not, and the dynamic always leads to a reduction in the number of people who fit into the first group and an increase in those in the second. Because this dividing line, however fictitious it may be, ends up having very real consequences for the people who come, with different motivations and reasons, looking for a future in Europe. Those who ask for international protection in Melilla see more and more weight being placed on their shoulders when it comes to proving the veracity and coherence of their stories. And those who come looking for work, find themselves in a city that locks them inside its fences and condemns them to life in this area unless they ask for the famous "asylum", which will give them a pass to leave by ferry. We are sitting ducks to the inconsistencies of the border system on which Melilla is founded, and the people who try to cross it on their way to Europe see their lives torn apart by the violence this generates.


  1. ALIJA, Adela. “La crisis de los refugiados en Europa, ¿crisis de seguridad o crisis de gobernanza?”, en Martín Ramírez, Jesús, Payá Santos, Claudio A. y Fernández Rodríguez, Juan C. (Dir.), Retos actuales de la Seguridad, Madrid: Thomson Reuters Aranzadi, 2016.

  2. “Nacido en otra parte; Un ensayo sobre la migración internacional, el desarrollo y la equidad”, Bob Sutcliffe (pp. 46 y ss).

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