The initialing of the Association Agreements between the EU and Moldova and Georgia in November intensified the preparations for a visa-free travel regime between the EU and its two qualified Eastern Partners. Moldova in particular is tipped to enjoy a visa-free regime with the EU in the very near future. Meanwhile, the startling events in Ukraine have brought to the fore the debate for another kind of visa-free infrastructure–with many calling for the EU to extend rights to Ukrainians as an act of amnesty over the Euromaidan protests. The issue of visa-free travel, and migration is one which has been heating up in recent months at both the EU and national levels. Let’s take a look…
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report last month entitled “IOM contribution to the DG Home Consultations: The future of Home Affairs Policies”, in their report, the IOM highlights the importance for the EU in “defining a coherent and consistent strategic approach which sets the political direction for EU action in justice and home affairs, and paves the way for a common migration policy supporting growth and competitiveness and migrants’ rights and well-being”.
The report explains:
“The effects of the financial crisis continue to impact on public resources in many EU Member States, forcing difficult spending choices and limiting resources and capacities to deliver on commitments, but also making our societies more susceptible to populism and anti-migrants sentiment. Within this challenging context the EU must strive for an ambitious vision for the future EU justice and home affairs (JHA) policy. A fundamental shift in public perception and political discourse on migrants and migration is needed. Fears and misconceptions in the migration debate undermine possibilities for evidence based policy and the formulation of a strategic outlook. When defining future priorities, IOM believes that it is essential to recognize the nature of migration as a process to be managed and not a problem to be solved.”
The IMO further emphasises the importance of effective integration “of newcomers and immigrants already residing in the EU”, explaining:
“A shift towards more open, tolerant and inclusive societies is crucial to enable the EU to fully benefit from having increasingly diverse populations. Our evolving communities, not least due to immigration, need to find new forms of cohesion and societal solidarity based on shared fundamental values. This implies responsibility on the part of governments to maintain honest, but constructive and evidence-based discourse and action on migration and integration, which does not descend into populism and scapegoating.”
The Role of the Neighbourhood
The IOM report also addresses the need for a shared responsibility in securing the external borders of the EU, highlighting the role of the Eastern Neighbourhood:
“The EU has a responsibility to keep borders open for those in need of international protection and to provide assistance to vulnerable migrants, in particular to victims of trafficking and unaccompanied migrant children. Concerted efforts will be required by all EU Member States to ensure a balanced, human-rights based and protection sensitive approach to the management of the EU external borders. It will also be important to support partner countries in their efforts to develop such an approach.”
“The European Neighbourhood continues to be the main testing ground for the EU’s toolbox of Mobility Partnerships, Regional Dialogues, Readmission Agreements and Visa Facilitation and Liberalisation.”
What about refugees?
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke last week in Brussels on the topic of asylum-seekers in the EU and the necessity for a common system:
“25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we see new walls being erected in Europe to prevent irregular migration, which too often also prevent people fleeing war or persecution from seeking safety. These bad practices set precedents for other parts of the world, and I appeal to Member States to respect the principles underpinning the Common European Asylum System, which are based not on walls, fences and additional administrative barriers, but on the human rights values of this continent.”
“…UNHCR is concerned by the multiplication of readmission agreements with countries located just at the external EU border that lack the capacity to offer effective reception and protection to refugees. These agreements should not apply to asylum seekers, and I strongly encourage Member States to put in place protection safeguards, including clearer instructions to border guards and access to interpreters at borders, both of which are lacking in many cases.”
Echoing the IOM report, Guterres emphasised the importance of integration when helping to ease the process of migration, saying:
“…Integration also takes a welcoming environment, and I hope EU countries will do more to combat extremist views that blame all social and security problems on the presence of foreigners. Fighting racism and xenophobia must not be confined to concerned civil society. Governments, mainstream political parties and responsible media must assume this responsibility with courage and determination. Strategies that cater to populist sentiments with the aim of gaining votes or increasing market shares will always, in the end, turn against those who employ them.”
Guterres also touched upon the role of the EaP in forming a common refugee and asylum-seeker policy with the EU:
“On average, the European Union only accounts for approximately 7% of refugees resettled by UNHCR. The ‘Resettlement Saves Lives’ campaign by several European and international organizations advocates for 20,000 resettlement places to be available in Europe by 2020, which both the European Commission and UNHCR fully support. A stronger European resettlement programme would help the development of effective asylum systems in the EU’s southern and eastern neighbourhood, as well as alleviating the pressure on asylum systems in Europe by providing additional legal avenues to arrive in Europe as refugees.”
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has the advancement of relations with the Eastern Partnership countries and issues related to migration and border management as important topics for Estonia during the Greek presidency of the EU. Paet explained,
“We must move forward with the results of the Eastern Partnership summit, which includes signing association agreements with Georgia and Moldova. It would be good if we could do this as soon as we can.”
Paet also highlighted that the granting of visa-free access to the EU to Moldovan citizens should also be approved as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Georgia has actually tightened its migration laws. In a new bill passed in December, reversed the overly liberal” migration policy that was pursued by the previous regime. As it currently stands citizens of more than 100 countries and territories are now able to enter into Georgia and stay in the country without visa for 360 days. With the passing of the new bill the government will be obligated to draw up a revised and reduced list of the countries, whose citizens will not require visas. Citizens of those countries with whom Georgia will keep visa-free rules, will be able to stay in the country without visa for maximum of 90 days, instead of current 360.
With the EU’s borders opening to Romania and Bulgaria this year, a lot of hype and fear has been stirred up–particular Germany and the UK, which traditionally absorb a lot of the EU’s migrant workers, have sounded the alarm for what they feared would be an insupportable influx of workers, or benefits-collectors. In a debate last week on NPR, journalist Soraya Sarhaddi Nelsonspoke about” the example of Germany, and why its fears maybe unfounded, and in fact, a guise for something else: poverty migration, and a way of justifying long-standing prejudice against the Roma.
“…Contrary to alarmist predictions, there has been no sudden influx of Romanians and Bulgarians since restrictions on their working in some EU countries were lifted on January 1st…Activists are trying to counter the anti-immigration rhetoric with studies that show the benefits of welcoming citizens from Romania and Bulgaria. For example, a recent study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research found that every fourth immigrant from those countries has a university degree. And a survey this month in the German, Zeit magazine revealed that most foreign doctors in Germany are from Romania”, Nelson explains.