Opportunities and challenges for NGOs to follow the EU agenda on migration and asylum

On 25 October I met with our members working on migration and refugees to look at how we should input to the European Commission’s work on legal migration, and to discuss challenges we face with keeping up with the proposals for a reformed Common European Asylum System.

EU Legal Migration – fit for purpose?

Representatives from the European Commission (DG Migration & Home Affairs) joined us to discuss their upcoming check of EU law and regulations in the area of legal migration, to see if it is ‘fit for purpose’. Maria Brättemark explained that the Commission will ask if EU laws*, are relevant in relation to current migration flows and if they address issues such as exploitation of workers, if there is coherence between different laws and with national policies, and if they are effective, efficient and have an EU added-value, as well as looking to see if there are any gaps. The latter is particularly interesting for us as some sectors of low- and medium-skilled migrants, such as the domestic care sector, are currently not protected by EU law. It will also be a Social Platform priority to contribute as our focus will be on social and economic inclusion of migrants in 2017.

The Commission will make an analysis of the context for all Member States (except Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland as they have opted-out of the laws). When gathering evidence and consulting with relevant stakeholders, civil society will be involved. Already, civil society organisations are welcome to send any relevant publications and information (in any EU language) that can help their assessment.

Pros and cons of the proposals for a reformed Common European Asylum System

Colleagues from the European NGO Platform on Asylum & Migration shared their initial assessment of the many proposals on decision-makers’ tables, and this as a way for us to get a bit of an overview ahead of our own continued discussions.

Judit Tanczos from Migration Policy Group shared their assessment of the Qualification Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive. MPG believe that while the proposals include some minor improvements, such as clarifications regarding social assistance and social security in the Qualification Directive and earlier access to the labour market in the Reception Conditions Directive, they also state clear sanctions when a person moves without permission to another Member State. Shortened residence permits may hamper integration as, for example, employers may be reluctant to employ someone with a short permit to stay. Furthermore, Member States’ obligation to review permits on a regular basis brings with it an administrative burden; out of 800,000 cases in France per year, less than one percent was rejected to stay on. Our member working on homelessness (FEANTSA) pointed out the importance of acknowledging the positive reference to equal treatment and adequate standards of living in the proposal for the Receptions Conditions Directive .

Kris Pollet from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles shared some of ECRE’s concerns. Among other issues is the failing Dublin system because people are forced to apply for protection in countries with substandard conditions of living. Rejecting material reception conditions for moving to another Member State is not the right way forward, and whether a person is moving from Greece to Denmark should not jepordise their claim for protection, as their need is not less founded, said Kris. Making return to a common set of ‘safe countries’ mandatory for Member States harmonises the system to the lowest and not the highest standards, responsibility is being shifted to third countries, and the solidarity mechanism only kicks in when Member States’ capacity is already over burdened. Another concern pointed out by Judit is that many of the proposals have been rushed and little evidence has been presented to prove their effectiveness. The challenge is how to counter the perception of politicians that governs over evidence, said Kris. While encouraging Member States to develop positive incentives could encourage migrants to stay, such incentives should not differentiate between ‘good’ migrants and demonise ‘bad’ migrants, or create tensions between different social groups (read more). Our member working on irregular migration (PICUM) added that the current system and proposals push people further out of the system and create a growing population of undocumented migrants.

As Social Platform we will keep on monitoring the social consequences of the proposals, and support members’ work.

*In particular the Family Reunification, Long-Term Residents, and the Single Permit Directives as they have been applied for at least three years. The EU Blue Card, Seasonal Workers, Intra-Corporate Transferees and Student & Research directives will be looked at only in terms of effectiveness and EU added-value, as they have recently been adopted, recast or are subject to a review.