Since 30 November 2020, several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in LIBE and FEMM parliamentary committees have been taking stock of dossiers concerning the recent activities of FRONTEX, voluntary returns and detention in first reception centres, asylum seekers’ rights and family reunification, child protection and human trafficking. The purpose of the resolutions is to raise attention of the European Parliament and European Commission on the protection of asylum seekers. MEPs discussions suggested several improvements for the EU legal framework on human rights and new approaches on the application of it at local level.
The FRONTEX case
A series of parliamentary questions was launched at the end of November 2020 following the concerns about illegal push-backs by border police forces under the European agency FRONTEX. The seriousness of the testimonies reported by international media and by local NGOs led the EASO and FRA representatives, UNHCR, the Council of Europe and IOM to express concern in the annual report on the FRONTEX consultative forum, with specific reference to the procedures used by the EU Agency in the context of human rights. On 30 November, MEPs wanted to shed light on the activities of the Greek coastguards operating under the aegis of FRONTEX and are accused of having stopped and returned migrants and refugees trying to reach EU shores to Turkish waters. According to MEPs, the Agency must be ready in next weeks to respond to the internal inquiry requested by the European Commission and to the questions of MEPs.
LIBE focus on refugee issues
On 1 December, MEPs of the LIBE Committee focused on two refugee-related key issues: the EU Return Directive and the solidarity mechanism between Member States. The draft resolution on EU returns calls for an adequate allocation of human resources and an improved training for local authorities, in order to encourage voluntary returns instead of forced removals and detention. Detention is imposed systematically in many member states while the return directive provides for detention only under certain circumstances. For this reason, the resolution calls for a deeper supervision in the application of common standards by both Member States and FRONTEX.
Another resolution aimed at increasing protection for asylum seekers and resettlement among member states was also presented. In particular, the MEPs questioned the effectiveness of the current legislation (The 2013 Dublin III Regulation) as well as the Council’s lack of position on the 2016 proposal to reform the Dublin Regulation.
Legal and technical deficiencies
The LIBE Committee focuses not only on the non-standard application of the hierarchy of criteria by countries of arrivals, but also on the necessary priority of child protection and family reunification. The MEPs focused on respect for the most vulnerable people by all the bodies of the European institutions. Because of this, MEPs call for harmonizing the requirements for family reunification across the EU. The solidarity mechanism and clause 17 (voluntary responsibility of a member state for an asylum application) should be implemented as their applications are not widespread. All member states should actively participate in the relocation of migrants and refugees from overcrowded and unhealthy first reception centres, state MEPs from the LIBE Committee.
FEMM-LIBE Joint debate
In the Joint debate of 7 November 2020 held by FEMM and LIBE Committees, the focus was on the implementation by member states of the policy framework to combat human trafficking. Key input was given in the context of sexual trafficking of women and children as well as to victims of trafficking for labour and illegal employment. All MEPs called for better cooperation and a wider EU cybersecurity policy with the objective to combat mafias and traffickers on the ground. The creation of legal routes instead of closing borders was suggested in the fight against human trafficking. Similarly, a homogeneous application of European regulations as well as adequate psychological support for victims would allow greater control over the routes.
All these efforts on the part of the parliamentary committees reflect the need for coordination at different levels: at the European laws and directives and in their application at local level. Although the Dublin Regulation has not been amended and there are several shortages in the management of activities by FRONTEX, the issue of child protection and family reunification as “priorities” have been put on the agenda. However, the health and hygiene deficiencies in hot-spots that migrants and refugees are forced to live in on their journey to (and within) the European Union remain a substantial problem for in the context of human rights. An effective implementation of a solidarity-based system with equal responsibilities would not only speed up bureaucratic procedures at the southern borders of the EU, but would also facilitate the creation of safer routes of access, as well as improving a limitation of human trafficking and illegal migration.
The European Parliament plenary will vote on the resolutions about EU Return and for a more inclusive solidarity mechanism between 14 and 18 December, while the joint resolution FEMM-LIBE will be voted on 11 January 2021.