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20 Dec, 2023 13:54

EU agrees immigration reforms

The measures will aim to limit numbers and spread responsibility for hosting arrivals more evenly across the bloc
EU agrees immigration reforms

The EU has agreed to limit the number of migrants entering the bloc, and to share the distribution and costs of hosting arrivals more evenly. The rules are set to take effect next year but have been criticized by human rights groups, which claim they will lead to a “surge in suffering” for asylum seekers.

The criteria, called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, were agreed in principle early on Wednesday following two days of negotiations between EU member states and the European Parliament.

Under the terms of the accord, which still requires formal approval, countries facing migrant surges will be afforded more flexibility when handling asylum applications. Additionally, the new system dictates that countries will have a choice between accepting refugees or paying into an EU fund.

A screening system will also be implemented to distinguish between migrants who need international protection and those who don’t.

The plan “will ensure that there is an effective European response to this European challenge,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on Wednesday. “It means that Europeans will decide who comes to the EU and who can stay, not the smugglers. It means protecting those in need.” 

However, some elements of the deal have alarmed rights groups. People whose applications for asylum are deemed to have a low chance of success, or those considered to be a potential threat to European security, can be detained at the border – factors which have prompted stinging criticism from Amnesty International.

The agreement “will lead to a surge in suffering,” Amnesty argued in a statement on Wednesday. The organization further claimed that the legislation will “weaken the rights of asylum seekers” while failing “to address urgent issues in European asylum and protections systems.” 

The European Parliament’s Left group, meanwhile, described the pact as “the most significant attack on asylum and migration rights since the EU was founded.”

Hailing the deal in a statement on Wednesday, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said it will add a sense of uniformity to the bloc’s migration policies, but admitted compromises must be made. Germany had petitioned for a “general exception for children and families from border protections,” she noted.

Migrant arrivals in the EU are down from a high of over 1 million in 2015, according to UN data, although numbers have been rising since 2020, the European Commission said.