The long-awaited proposal from the European Commission for refugee resettlement is a poisoned gift.
In recent years, elected officials from many E.U. countries have repeatedly called for the creation of more legal pathways for refugees to enter Europe, mainly as a means of ending drowning deaths in the Mediterranean, but also as a concrete act of global solidarity. For this reason, many of us had high hopes of a new refugee resettlement scheme unveiled by the European Commission on July 13.
The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) already has a well-established model for the resettlement of people who have fled their homes to start new lives in safe places. Refugees included in such a program are guaranteed safe passage, shelter and assistance to integrate on arrival in the host country.
However, instead of showing initiative and taking responsibility at a time when we are facing the worst global refugee crisis since the second world war, the commission’s proposal was a huge disappointment. Rather than standing up for the principles on which the UNCHR resettlement scheme is based, the commission’s proposal makes the resettlement program subservient to a game in which third countries (outside the E.U.) are encouraged to act as gatekeepers, “to control refugee flows,” as officials put it.
According to the proposal, the E.U. is to prioritize the resettlement of refugees from these third countries based on the extent of their cooperation with the E.U. to stop “irregular refugees” – in practice, the vast majority of all refugees – and deport them back to their countries of origin. This version of a resettlement scheme is no less than a continuation of the disgraceful E.U.-Turkey deal, in which the authoritarian regime of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is being paid to stop refugees from reaching Europe.
Another serious shortcoming with the commission’s proposal is the unclear status it affords people included in the resettlement program. Granting refugees permanent residence permits is one of the founding pillars of the UNHCR’s resettlement program. Permanent permits are regarded as pivotal in helping refugees integrate well in a new country. The commission does not state whether resettled refugees will be granted permanent or temporary permits in the E.U. resettlement scheme. This leaves out of one of the most important principles of a resettlement program.
Furthermore, the commission proposes to make itself the agency responsible for negotiating the details of the concrete resettlement schemes. This would lead to a lack of transparency and accountability, as the commission is a bureaucratic institution, not a democratically elected body.
A third problem is the inclusion of refugees being reunified with family in the resettlement program. According to the proposal, refugees who are able to enter the E.U. under provisions for reunification with immediate family are to be counted as resettled refugees. But family reunification is, and should continue to be, a separate legal pathway into the E.U. This measure is a back-door means of lowering the number of refugees eligible for resettlement.
In September, the U.N. will hold a summit on refugees and migrants. In addition to this, Sweden and the United States, among other countries, will host an important meeting focusing on the reception of refugees. If this distortion of the UNHCR’s resettlement scheme is the E.U.’s contribution to the global effort to help refugees, it is a poisonous gift.
In the negotiations to come, I expect Sweden, as well as other countries that have participated for many years in the U.N. resettlement program, to demand the necessary changes in the E.U. version. As the European Parliament’s rapporteur on this issue, I will do my best to mobilize everyone who stands up for the international right to seek asylum; who wishes to see more legal pathways into the E.U.; and who refuses to sanction the E.U.-Turkey deal as a model for future refugee policies, be it in the E.U. or anywhere else in the world.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.