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EU agrees new rules on hosting migrants, and seeks to cut numbers

December 20, 2023 at 3:17 pm

EU Commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson is talking to media in the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on December 20, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium [Thierry Monasse/Getty Images]

The European Union reached agreement early on Wednesday on new rules designed to share out the cost and work of hosting migrants more evenly and to limit the numbers of people coming in, Reuters has reported.

Representatives of the European Parliament and EU national governments reached an accord after all-night talks on EU laws collectively called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum that should start taking effect next year. The laws cover screening irregular migrants when they arrive in the European Union, procedures for handling asylum applications, rules on determining which EU country is responsible for handling applications and ways to handle crises.

Migrant arrivals in the EU are way down from the 2015 peak of more than 1 million, but have crept up steadily from a 2020 low to 255,000 in the year to November, with more than half crossing the Mediterranean from Africa, mainly to Italy.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi called the pact a “great success” for Europe and Italy, which meant that EU border countries most exposed to migration would no longer feel alone. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said agreement on the pact was very important, relieving states affected, including Germany.

Previous efforts to share out the responsibility of hosting migrants have foundered because eastern EU members in particular were unwilling to take in people who had arrived in Greece, Italy and other countries. Under the new system, countries not at the border of the bloc will have to choose between accepting their share of 30,000 asylum applicants or paying at least €20,000 ($21,870) per person into an EU fund.

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The screening system envisaged will seek to distinguish between those in need of international protection and others who are not. People whose asylum applications have a low chance of success, such as those from India, Tunisia or Turkey, can be prevented from entering the EU and detained at the border, as can people believed to be a threat to security. The processing of applications would also be speeded up.

Amnesty International said the pact would set EU asylum law back decades and lead to greater suffering for people seeking asylum. The human rights organisation described the system as being designed to make it harder for people to access safety. “The pact will almost certainly cause more people to be put into de facto detention at EU borders, including families with children and people in vulnerable situations,” Amnesty insisted.