No reason for celebration – EU parliament votes in favor of a regressive EU Pact on Migration

Today the European Parliament gave final approval to the European Pact on Migration and Asylum. This vote comes after months of intense advocacy from civil society organisations and migrants’ rights advocates, warning about the devastating impacts inherent to the proposals, and asking MEPs to work towards an alternative policy approach that is rights-affirming and coherent with the EU’s commitments on human rights.

Unfortunately, efforts to turn the negotiations towards more humane solutions have been insufficient. The European Commission claims that the Pact will “create a fairer, efficient, and more sustainable migration and asylum process for the European Union”. The reality is that the agreed measures will directly harm and create more suffering for migrants and refugees, people who are guilty of nothing other than seeking to enter the EU and build a life with rights and dignity. The general picture of migration policy will be one of widespread detention at borders, increased deportations and substandard procedures (for a detailed overview of measures see this joint civil society statement, PICUM’s analysis and ECRE’s editorial). 

Beyond the impacts that directly affect people on the move, the Pact will have wide-ranging implications for the European Union as a whole. Its approval marks a defining step towards the dismantlement of collective safeguards that guarantee the protection of the rights of everyone. Harmful and repressive migration policies erode checks and balances that ensure the functioning of democratic systems and effective exercise of legal protections. This is a concern shared by the Council of Europe’s Dunja Mijatovic in an op-ed published weeks before the end of her term as Commissioner of Human Rights. 

Efforts by rights groups going forward will likely be focused on reducing the harm of these measures via strategic litigation and continued direct support to migrants in their journeys. Considerable resources in the EU budget will be directed towards the Pact’s implementation. Once a budget is allocated and investment is made, for example, for the purpose of detention, it is likely that that infrastructure will be used and detention will remain a practice for many years. These are resources that could be used for peaceful purposes and the realisation and effective enjoyment of everyones’ rights. 

For this and more reasons, today there is no reason for celebration, because the European Union knows (and should do) better. Solidarity with migrants and refugees remains a living reality in some parts of the EU. It lives in the service and medical attention that doctors provide to all who need it, irrespective of migration status, when they are supported by policies to do so. It lives in the communities that are active, at times at great personal cost, to support migrants in meeting their basic needs at the borders, or in cities, neighborhoods and villages. It lives in classrooms that come together to stop the deportation and uprooting of one of their classmates. It lives in community spaces where people are opening up to each other, hearing the stories of migrants and refugees, and connecting around their shared humanity.  

Solidarity flourishes when the European Union remains open in every sense of the word: open-hearted, open to the world, and open in its willingness to try a path where policies are instruments to bring out the best of our societies, not the worst. For that, we need to cherish and strengthen the spaces where solidarity remains unyielding. And most importantly, we need to collectively hold onto the possibility (and the promise) of what the EU could still be: a place of sanctuary, hospitality and diversity, and a continent that does not compromise on humanity.