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Protecting rights "must be given priority" in EU's migration pact  

EU local and regional leaders also call for a solidarity mechanism that effectively eases the migration challenges faced by regions on the EU's external borders.

The European Union's institutions should revise proposals in its New Pact on Migration and Asylum in ways that provide greater support to regions on the EU's borders, ensure better protection for the vulnerable, and reduce the length of time spent at reception centres on the EU's borders, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) says in a set of recommendations adopted on 19 March.

The recommendations , if accepted by EU member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission, would ease border regions' access to funding and lighten the responsibilities placed on them, and offer the possibility – in crises – to accommodate irregular migrants elsewhere in the EU while their applications are processed. This proposal would reduce the use of hotspots, and lift the 'first-country-of-entry' principle used to determine the member state responsible. Among measures focused on asylum-seekers and migrants, the recommendations argue for greater support for vulnerable groups and minors, object to a Commission proposal to fingerprint children younger than 12, call for greater medical and psychological support in reception centres, and urge that children and unaccompanied women be given priority in resettlement procedures.

The opinion also supports a proposal in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, which the Commission presented in September 2020, for a flexible mechanism for solidarity between EU Member States. It is, however, sceptical about the practicability of the concept of return sponsorships. The mechanism would oblige EU Member States to show solidarity, but they would be free to choose from a variety of expressions of practical solidarity.

Rapporteur Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), Vice-President of Bremen City Parliament, said: "As European cities, municipalities and regions, we must work for effective solutions based on fundamental European values, fairness and shared responsibility. This is why we call for a migration solidarity mechanism that takes our views into account and effectively relieves the burden on frontline regions. What is more, the protection of the fundamental rights of migrants and especially of children and minors must be given priority. We need faster procedures, carried out in accordance with human rights. A Europe in which no one is left behind is not about an à la carte project, but requires solidarity and fairness."

Speaking at the CoR's plenary on 17 March, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the asylum and migration management regulation – Tomas Tobé (SV/EPP) – said solidarity should be "mandatory" but with "flexible" options, adding that new ideas for forms of solidarity would probably be needed.

He said: "The current European asylum system is flawed, which heavily affects the regions and local areas, especially in the frontline Member States. To ease this pressure, we need to have a well-functioning migration system. We need meaningful solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility across the Union -- but we have to find pragmatic solutions, because we have been discussing this basically since 2016 with very, very slow progress. But no matter what we will agree on, we need implementation, because if we had a functioning implementation of the current system, we would not be in the problems we have now. We have a lot of things to do before we can come to any kind of political conclusions on the Pact."

The CoR's opinion focuses principally on the reception phase of migration, considering contentious issues in the Commission's proposals ranging from the screening and processing of applications, the criteria applied for the evaluation of applications, the return of migrants whose applications are rejected, the provision of services, and the associated financial and administrative burdens on border regions. The CoR also welcomed another dimension of the Pact, the integration of migrants in their new homes, describing the Commission's 2021-2027 Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion as a "necessary complement" to the New Pact of Migration and Asylum.

In 2019, the CoR launched a Cities and Regions for the Integration of Migration initiative, with the support of the European Commission. During its March 2021 plenary, the CoR and the European Commission signed an agreement deepening their cooperation.

Speaking at the CoR plenary on 19 March, Ylva Johansson , the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, focused on integration, saying: “Local and regional authorities are in the frontline to provide integration and other services to newly arrived migrants as well as to support their long-term inclusion. I am happy to announce this partnership with the Committee of the Regions, which will play a key role in supporting cities and regions in the EU in their integration work."

Contact:

Andrew Gardner

+32 473 943 981

andrew.gardner@cor.europa.eu


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