Von der Leyen’s EU Migration Pact replicates illegal Hungarian measures; Western powers already create new reasons for flight.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s new EU Migration Pact replicates illegal elements of the notorious Hungarian anti-refugee defense and is sharply criticized by refugee and human rights organizations. According to the pact, refugees coming from countries with low rates of asylum recognition should be detained in camps. The duration of detention can be officially accumulated to six months. Hungary had previously established such camps (“transition camps”), but had to announce their immediate closure after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declared the Hungarian internment practice illegal. The EU has already begun setting up such camps, one is under construction on the Greek Island of Samos, and another is to be constructed on Lesbos. Refugee and human rights organizations have voiced sharp criticism, calling it a “diabolical disenfranchisement pact.” Meanwhile, Western powers are creating new reasons for flight: brutal sanctions are starving Syria’s population.
Key rules of the EU’s “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” correspond largely to the concept Hungary had implemented with its “transit camps.” Refugees, who entered from Serbia to apply for asylum in Hungary, had to report at the border crossing of Röszke or Tompa, where they were detained in camps until a decision was made on their application. This could take months. When accused of detaining innocent people, the Hungarian government responded that the refugees were free at any time to go back to Serbia, a “safe third country,” where they would not be under the threat of persecution. The “transit camps” had come under heavy criticism, not only in Germany and other EU member countries. Last spring, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) classified Budapest’s practices to be clearly illegal. The ECJ concluded that in the camps, the refugees were deprived of their freedom and this was illegal. A state may prevent refugees from leaving a border region, but only for a time not exceeding four weeks. Hungary’s Prime Minister subsequently announced that his government would close the “transit camps.”
“No Due Process of Law”
The EU’s new migration pact, presented by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, stipulates that refugees from countries with low rates of asylum recognition – less than 20 percent – should be subjected to an accelerated border procedure. During the time of that procedure, refugees will be considered not to have entered the country, will not be allowed to circulate freely within the country, and will be detained in a transit zone or transit camp. According to the EU Commission’s plans, the time of the procedure should not exceed twelve weeks. This means that asylum seekers can be detained three times as long as the ECJ considered legal. If the application for asylum is rejected a return border procedure – also limited to 12 weeks – will follow. Those coming from so-called safe third countries – Turkey is considered to be one – have no chance of being granted asylum in the EU. The similarities to the Hungarian model are obvious. In addition, refugees in those planned transit camps will have little or no access to legal aid. Moreover, as the refugee organization Pro Asyl notes, “in the context of a border procedure, the appeal procedure is limited to only one judicial level” and the appeal would “not have an automatic deferral effect.” There is “no possibility for due process of law,” concludes an employee of the organization Kindernothilfe (Save The Children).
EU camps, for housing refugees at the EU’s external borders, are not projects of the future, but are already in construction. The first is under construction on the Greek island of Samos, southwest of the Turkish port city of Izmir. This camp is due to house a total of 2,100 refugees – 900 of them in an enclosed area, as has been reported with references to documents originating in Greece’s Ministry of Migration. The freedom of circulation for those living outside the restricted area will apparently also be limited. For example, the gates, allowing passage only to those wearing a chip wristband, will remain closed at night. The facility gives the clear impression of a “jail,” an employee of Doctors without Borders (MSF) was quoted saying. In light of the fact that the facility is five kilometers from the next community, the MSF employee spoke of obvious “segregation.” It is uncertain whether non-governmental organizations such as MSF will even be allowed to operate within the camp. The EU has earmarked around €130 million for the construction of this and other camps (“Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centers” – RIC). On Wednesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reiterated that a RIC should also be constructed on Lesbos. The facility, it is reported, would be “of a European standard.”
Von der Leyen’s sharply criticized new EU Migration Pact, also includes so-called return sponsorships – wherein, those countries unwilling to accept refugees, should instead assume return sponsorship for transporting rejected asylum seekers from the EU. “The far right has captured EU migration policy,” protested European Parliamentarian Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66) from the Netherlands. Pro Asyl observed, “The year 2020” must be considered “another low point in European history,” in relationship to “respect for human rights and protection of asylum seekers:” “Shots fired along the Greek-Turkish border; occasional lifting of the right to asylum in Greece; violent push-backs along the Balkan route; refugee vessels forced back into Turkish territorial waters by the Greek Coast Guard” – and, most recently, following the fire at the Moria camp, the EU’s refusal to accept the 12,000 homeless refugees. Pro Asyl’s Administrative Secretary Günter Burkhard considers that the EU Commission headed by the German President betrays “the human rights of those seeking protection.” This is a diabolical disenfranchisement pact.
In the meantime, the western powers, whose wars have driven the majority of the refugees to flee their homelands to the Greek islands, (german-foreign-policy.com reported ) are creating the next reason for flight – in Syria. The war-torn country is not only bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is additionally suffering under new US sanctions, which, as the head of Caritas International, Oliver Müller reports, is creating further shortages of food. Already now – due also to the already existing western sanctions – nearly four-fifths of the remaining population within the country are living below the poverty line; eleven million Syrians are even dependent on humanitarian aid. The most recently imposed US sanctions make it even more difficult to provide supplies to the people, among other things because banks refuse to transact money transfers to Syria, out of fear of US reprisals. This also endangers the payment of salaries to native Syrian employees of aid organizations, such as Caritas. “Our suffering has a lot to do with the sanctions,” confirmed a Franciscan padre from Aleppo. The situation in the northern Syrian city has become “worst than during the siege.” If the West continues to maintain its sanctions policy, a new mass exodus from Syria cannot be ruled out – due to dire hunger.
Please take note of our video column, The EU – a “Union of Values”?
 Marlene Grunert, Stephan Löwenstein: Neue Hürden für die Asylreform. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29.05.2020.
,  Grenzverfahren unter Haftbedingungen – die Zukunft des Europäischen Asylsystems? proasyl.de 23.09.2020.
 Kindernothilfe: EU-Migrationspakt muss Kindswohl stärker beachten. evangelisch.de 24.09.2020.
 Ann Esswein: Mit der Geduld am Ende – Die Flüchtlingssituation auf Samos. dw.com 23.09.2020.
 Marion MacGregor: EU to help build new Lesbos camp. infomigrants.net 24.09.2020.
 Jennifer Rankin: EU’s migration proposals draw anger on left and leave questions unanswered. theguardian.com 23.09.2020.
 Grenzverfahren unter Haftbedingungen – die Zukunft des Europäischen Asylsystems? proasyl.de 23.09.2020.
 See also Die Fluchtverursacher.
 Was hilft der syrischen Bevölkerung? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 23.09.2020.
 Syrien: Lage in Aleppo ist “schlimmer als während der Belagerung”. vaticannews.va 23.09.2020.