EU: MEPs, migration policy experts call for urgent action to uphold refugee rights


Over 100 MEPs from four political groups in the European Parliament have called on the European Commission to take action so that "fundamental rights and the right to asylum" are upheld in Greece. Their calls have been echoed by dozens of migration policy experts working on EU-funded projects.

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The MEPs' letter, sent on 25 March and signed by MEPs from the Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL, Socialists & Democrats and Renew Europe groups, highlights "serious concerns regarding the use of COVID 19 epidemic to justify denial of the right to seek international protection at our borders, detention of asylum-seekers and forced returns to situations of danger."

The letter from EU-funded researchers, who have worked on numerous collaborative research projects examining how to improve EU migration policy, expresses "paramount concern regarding the violent course of action that is taken by the EU and individual member states in these testing times," and notes that the EU's actions are "doubly disturbing" - firstly, because expert advice and knowledge has been totally disregarded; and secondly, because the policies being promoted and implemented on the ground "fail to meet minimal human rights standards".

The MEPs also urge the Commission "to act regarding the serious deficiencies that have started in Greece before the COVID-19 outbreak and keep deteriorating," in particular with regard to the Greek government's decision to suspend access to the asylum procedure for a month.

"This is not to be understood as a “monthly delay” in the possibility to lodge an application but, literally, as banning access to all asylum procedures for the people who enter the country irregularly in seek of international protection, whilst there are no legal entry possibilities provided," says the letter.

Equally, the researchers say that "the [European Commission] should demand that individual member states apply adequate reception actions, restore asylum procedures, restrain from the production of an official discourse that encourages xenophobia, and strongly denounce all acts that threaten both asylum seekers and humanitarian workers."

The MEPs draw attention to the numerous reports of violence against people attempting to cross the Greek border, and warns that Frontex's border surveillance and control operations may be implicated in human rights abuses.

"We are urgently calling in this regard for an investigation of the orders being given by the Poseidon coordination Center that appear to be violating international law and have led FRONTEX Danish crew to refuse to obey to them," the MEPs demand, referring to the refusal of the Danish coast guard to engage in pushbacks.

The researchers' call not just for immediate action, but long-term changes. They want to see:

"An immediate decision to create an evidence-based policymaking structure that obliges EU officials to take into account the research findings of academics, who are studying human mobility and the best ways to deal with the challenges we face in this field."

Letter from MEPs: Letter to Ursula von der Leyen, Margaritis Schinas and Ylva Johansson, 25 March 2020 (pdf)

EU-funded researchers' letter: A call by concerned researchers for immediate action and radical revision of current EU policies on mobility and migration governance (pdf)

Further reading

Statewatch Analysis: EU/Greece/Turkey: Crisis not averted: security policies cannot solve a humanitarian problem, now or in the long-term (pdf):

At the end of February, the Turkish government announced it would allow refugees to travel onwards to Greece and Bulgaria, in the hope of extracting from the EU further financial support as well as backing for its military operations in Syria. It has now taken up its role as Europe's border guard again, but the manufactured crisis induced by the Turkish decision and the EU response highlight the long-term failings of the EU's asylum and migration model.

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