Unpacking the new EU Migration Pact ahead of the EU elections

Unpacking the new EU Migration Pact ahead of the EU elections

By: naledi mashishi&
May 24 2024

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Unpacking the new EU Migration Pact ahead of the EU elections

(Source: Artur Widak/NurPhoto)

Migration is a contentious issue in the upcoming European Union (EU) elections in June, with the most recent Eurobarometer showing that 71 percent of EU citizens reported feeling dissatisfied with how their governments have handled it. 

Recent polls have predicted that far-right parties are likely to make significant gains in the upcoming elections by tapping into existing cultural and economic anxieties to promote anti-immigrant narratives.

These parties have capitalized on tensions around the growing number of asylum seekers, particularly in states along the Mediterranean route. Recent examples include Italy's Lampedusa, where residents held protests against the thousands of migrants who arrive by sea. Bad faith actors were able to exploit the existing tensions in Lampedusa to spread stigmatizing false narratives claiming that asylum seekers were caught on camera clashing with police and cooking residents' pets for dinner – both proved false. 

Anti-asylum seeker sentiments have also spilled into Dublin, Ireland, where residents have held protests against asylum seekers, citing unfounded claims about "unvetted" migrant men. 

On May 14, the EU adopted a sweeping set of reforms to overhaul the asylum and migration system. The new EU Migration Pact has emerged after years of deliberations that began in September 2020. 

The new pact is a collection of bills that emphasize a common procedure to manage asylum seekers and share responsibility among member states to take pressure off states such as Germany, France, and Italy, which receive the majority of asylum seekers. According to Eurostat data, when combined with Austria and Spain, these five EU member states accounted for 75 percent of all first-time asylum applicants in the EU in 2022. 

The complex set of regulations has been subjected to harsh criticisms and misinformation. Social media users have made a number of false claims about the pact, including that it takes away member states' ability to determine their own immigration policy and that the EU will force member states to accept up to 30,000 asylum seekers or risk paying fines of up to €20,000 per asylum seeker they refuse to accept. 

Human rights organizations have also leveled criticisms against the pact, claiming that it is aimed at deterring immigration by making it harder for asylum seekers to gain refugee status.

Logically Facts examines the new EU migration pact and surrounding misinformation. 

Current asylum seeker statistics 

The European Commission defines asylum seekers as "a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken." Those who are eligible for refugee status are those who are outside of their country of origin and are unable or unwilling to return to it due to "a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group."

According to Eurostat data, the number of first-time asylum applicants across the EU increased from 417,070 people in 2020 to 873,680 people in 2022. These figures increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has since led to over 6.5 million Ukrainians being displaced, 3.8 million being granted temporary protection within the EU, and over 1.1 million settling in Germany. 

Research has pointed to evidence of "solidarity fatigue," referring to a growing unwillingness to assist Ukraine and accept refugees. This was reflected in a poll by Eupinions, which found that the willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees across the EU had declined from 86 percent in March 2022 to 71 percent in December 2023. 

Analysis from a research think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations, linked this phenomenon to anti-Ukrainian disinformation narratives disseminated by Russian Telegram channels, which feed off existing anxieties around security and economic concerns. These narratives included false reports of rapes, burglaries, and assaults taking place near the Poland-Ukraine border as well as reports that asylum seekers arriving from Ukraine were not women and children but men from Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Nigeria. 

Logically Facts has previously debunked false claims that Ukrainian refugees beat a Polish citizen to death and burned down a house in Germany while trying to set the Russian flag on fire. 

Graph showing the number of first-time asylum applicants across the EU between 2014 and 2022 (Source: Eurostat) 

The EU countries that recorded the highest number of first-time asylum applicants in 2022 were Germany (218,000), France (138,000), Spain (116,000), Austria (110,000), and Italy (77,000). 

What will the EU Migration Pact do?

The new EU Migration Pact aims to create a sustainable, unified approach to asylum seekers. It emphasizes strengthening external borders, implementing faster, more centralized procedures in which data is shared with all member states, and creating a compulsory solidarity mechanism in which all member states will contribute support to those dealing with high volumes of asylum seekers. 

New arrivals will be registered upon arrival and subject to screenings at the territory they arrive at. Irregular migrants deemed unlikely to need protection, present a security risk, or mislead authorities will be subjected to a fast-track border procedure during which their application will be examined. If rejected, they will be returned to their country of origin without being authorized to enter the EU. The new pact will also implement clampdowns on secondary movement and those who try to lodge multiple applications in different countries. 

The pact will include a new Eurodac asylum and migration database, which will store identification data on everyone who enters the EU as an asylum seeker or irregular migrant. This data will include fingerprints, facial recognition, and copies of identity and travel documents. Children six years and older will be fingerprinted and added to the system. 

A graph summarizing the new EU Migration Pact created by the EU Commission. (Source: EU Commission Home Affairs press office)

Importantly, the new migration pact includes a permanent solidarity mechanism that mandates member states to provide support to states that face a high volume of asylum applications. Anitta Hipper, European Commission spokesperson for Home Affairs, told Logically Facts that the mandatory solidarity mechanism will provide member states flexibility in the type of solidarity they can offer. 

"Member states under migratory pressure can receive support in the form of relocations, financial contributions or alternative solidarity measures," she explained. "They can also receive a full or partial deduction from their solidarity pledge."

There have been some media reports that the solidarity mechanism will force member states "to accept defined GDP-related quota of refugees or pay a €20,000 fine per migrant refused." But this claim is false. Hipper clarified to Logically Facts that EU member states will not be required to accept a set number of asylum seekers. Instead, they will be able to choose what type of support they give, and this could mean accepting relocated asylum seekers, offering financial support to states under pressure, or providing other types of support such as staff or in-kind support measures. 

Olivia Sundberg Diez, the EU Advocate on Migration and Asylum at Amnesty International, told Logically Facts that states will have a high degree of flexibility in the support they can choose to give, potentially risking a lack of predictability in the system. She also pointed out that at this stage, it is unclear which countries will be identified as needing support and which will need to offer support, and this uncertainty may help stoke resentments that have fermented over the Ukraine response. 

"A lot of the countries that have been the most firmly opposed to mandatory relocations have actually been hosting a large number of refugees and people displaced from Ukraine. So actually, depending on how the calculations are worked out, it may be that they are found to be in need of solidarity, rather than needing to contribute solidarity, in terms of finances and relocations," she explained. 


The Migration Pact and Misinformation

The new migration pact has been the focus of misinformation narratives, which position it as an open border policy that will allow rampant illegal immigration into Europe. This is a narrative that has also been spread by politicians such as Irish Freedom Party candidate Hermann Kelly, who has taken to his X (formerly known as Twitter) account to argue that the pact will result in Ireland being "flooded" with more economic migrants and "bogus" asylum seekers. 

X users spreading false narratives that the EU Migration Pact will lead to a rampant increase in illegal immigration. (Source: X/Screenshots)

Several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have flagged human rights concerns presented by the new pact. 

Diez told Logically Facts that the new migration pact may create the opposite effect by making it more difficult for asylum seekers to apply for and obtain international protection within the EU. She argues the new pact risks increasing detention, restricting asylum seekers' ability to access legal representation, and increasing rejections using the Safe Country mechanism, which would allow asylum seekers to be rejected if a part of their country of origin or a country they transited through is deemed safe. 

"This means, for example ... if someone from Afghanistan is seeking international protection in Greece and took a trip through Turkey [to get to Greece], they are not interviewed on whether Afghanistan is safe. They are interviewed on whether Turkey is safe," she explained. 

"And that means that people may be rejected and forced to return to a country they may have only briefly traveled through in which they have no family, they do not speak the language, and perhaps didn't even have valid documentation and residence permits while they were staying there." 

In a report published by Amnesty International in 2023, the organization argued that the pact would likely result in more asylum seekers being placed in de-facto detention centers where they will experience limited legal representation and substandard border procedures that fail to assess their vulnerability adequately. This sentiment was echoed by other human rights organizations such as HIAS, which argued that the flexible solidarity mechanisms are unlikely to offer border states the support they need, instead increasing the pressure they are under due to the new processing mechanisms. 

"It's been very clear from the beginning that this was a set of reforms that aimed at making it harder to reach Europe and harder to obtain protection in Europe," Sundberg told Logically Facts. "It's very clear that the primary element is going to be to make it harder for people to access safety and to leave more people in tougher situations once they do reach Europe."

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