The European Commission recently presented its Action Plan on the Central Mediterranean, the world’s deadliest sea crossing for migrants. This came after years of failed negotiations at European Union (EU) level to share responsibility for refugees, which has put uneven pressure on member states at EU external borders.
The EU’s inability to agree internally has also shifted the focus to policies aiming to prevent asylum seekers from arriving, including the hardening of border controls and questionable migration deals with third countries – such as Turkey or Libya.
Many of these policies were first tested on the Greek island of Lesvos, as explained in the feature published by Chatham House earlier in 2022.
Apart from human rights concerns, the ever-expanding role of the EU and its agencies in asylum and migration matters has also raised questions of legitimacy and accountability, creating tensions in member states and undermining the trust in democracy and political institutions.
While asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea and freeze in the Polish forests, often framed as security threats in a ‘hybrid attack‘ on Europe, the EU has shown remarkable unity and solidarity over the eight million Ukrainian refugees.
This positive response exposes the double standards in the EU’s approach to refugees and shows that implementing fair asylum policies is feasible when there is political will.
Key questions to consider include:
Does the Commission’s Action Plan signal a change in the EU’s response to refugees and migrants?
What is the relationship between the EU and its Member States in shaping asylum and migration policies across the Union?
Is the implementation of these policies in line with the rule of law and the principle of inclusive governance? If not, what are the risks for refugees’ rights and democratic institutions within the Union?
Is the EU’s warm welcome to Ukrainians an indication of a shift in the EU’s asylum policy overall?
How can European governments and institutions work together to create more humane and sustainable asylum systems?