The European Commission’s proposed Action Plan for the Central Mediterranean and Action Plan for the Western Balkan consolidates an EU policy approach aimed at stemming irregular movements. Both Action Plans addresses protection of people on the move primarily through the logic of prevention and deterrence.
Despite growing evidence of the protection implications of the EU’s approach to asylum and migration that criminalizes mobility and securitizes borders, key components of the proposed Action Plans remain the strengthening of border management capacities and the disruption of cross-border smuggling networks.
There are welcome actions in both plans aimed at supporting and facilitating responsibility-sharing with third countries, such as support to strengthening asylum capacity, and evacuation schemes, as well as among EU Member States e.g., such as relocation, but to achieve genuine progress, safe mobility and access to protection must be at the centre of all actions.
The barriers to seek protection in Europe are well-documented – including by DRC - among other practices by the consistently high numbers of pushbacks as well as the unwillingness to let rescue boats disembark - both tactics used by the EU Member States as de facto tools for border management.
Moving forward, the DRC urges the European Commission and the EU Member States to:
- Uphold the right to seek asylum. Ensure that all proposals, legal frameworks, and practices promote human rights, and do not undermine them. Upholding the right to apply for international protection and the principle of non-refoulement are obligations that all EU Member States are bound to respect, implement, and enforce.
- Consider evidence of adverse human rights effects of anti-smuggling policies. Ensure that measures to address human smuggling and control movements adequately consider evidence of the adverse effects of anti-smuggling policies on people on the move. Actions against human smuggling not only affect the ability of smuggling networks to operate but have both direct and indirect implications on the safety and security of people seeking protection.
- Enhance safe, regular, and accessible pathways. Irregular movements must be understood in conjunction with the absence of safe and regular pathways for mobility, and increasingly restrictive measures to block and prevent departures. Commitments to enhance safe pathways must be translated into action.
- Promote and commit to solidarity. Both among the EU Member States and with refugees and migrants to ensure that responsibility-sharing is at the core of EU policies and that solidarity is reflected in the EU’s cooperation with third countries.
While the scale of global displacement is high, and challenges related to mobility are real in Europe and beyond safe and humane responses are possible. With the EU’s response to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine, the EU Member States have proven that if political will prevails and there is commitment to share responsibility, protection focused and dignified solutions can be found.