European Parliament and member states reach deal on asylum and migration reform

After a long night of negotiations, the European Parliament and member states on Wednesday finalised a comprehensive reform of the EU's asylum and migration policies. The deal aims to strengthen existing rules and curb illegal migration, said European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas.

The deal will tighten controls at the EU's external borders. Every asylum seeker will be screened and those arriving from designated safe countries will face stricter treatment, being held in detention-like reception centres until their applications are processed.

In addition, a solidarity mechanism will be introduced to distribute asylum seekers among member states. Countries unwilling to accept refugees will have to provide alternative support, such as financial aid. Provisions allow the European Commission to call for additional solidarity if necessary.

A remedy for Belgium

Belgium's Asylum and Migration state secretary Nicole de Moor sees the reform as a remedy for the country's long-standing asylum problems, particularly the influx of migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to De Moor, Belgium's fair contribution under the solidarity mechanism would have corresponded to around 11,400 asylum seekers between January and November of 2023, which is significantly less than the 31,500 applications made during that period.

Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece celebrated the reform, seeing it as a balanced solution to ease the burden on countries facing significant inflows of migrants, particularly those along the Mediterranean route. Italian Interior minister Matteo Piantedosi hailed it as a success, saying it would improve the management of migration flows and let Europe step up efforts to combat human trafficking.

Detaining children 'a bridge too far'

Others have criticised the deal. The Left group in the European Parliament called it "a dark day for Europe", while NGOs warn of a violation of children's rights, as the reform could allow for the detention of children. Belgian deputy prime minister Petra De Sutter insisted that Belgium would not do this. "This is a bridge too far. It will not happen in Belgium," she said on Wednesday.

This migration reform has been years in the making. It was first proposed by the European Commission in 2016, after the refugee crisis of 2015-2016. However, several parties blocked the reform: countries including Hungary wanted stricter rules on migration, while left-wing parties and humanitarian organisations were concerned about the deal's impact on human rights.

The six-month Belgian presidency of the EU, which begins on 1 January, will be tasked with finalising the text of the agreement. "Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo assured me last week that he is ready to take up the dossier," said European Parliament president Roberta Metsola.


A boat carrying 156 migrants arrives ar the Canary Islands © PHOTO STRINGER / AFP

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