EU member states give final approval to stricter migration reforms

Kyiv: EU ministers on Tuesday gave their final approval to a massive overhaul aimed at tightening the bloc’s migration and asylum laws that had been years in the making.

EU officials had been at pains to wrap up the migration reforms ahead of European elections scheduled for June. The issue has been politically divisive, especially since an influx of arrivals in 2015 that exposed the system’s weaknesses.

The overhaul consists of 10 pieces of legislation, which were supported by the vast majority of EU member states. However, Hungary and Poland voted against the entire package, and countries such as Austria and Slovenia opposed particular parts.

The new body of law is the product of years of fierce debate, which came to a head in a tense European Parliament vote on April 11. Protesters disrupted the vote, throwing paper aeroplanes across the chamber and chanting, “This pact kills, vote no!”

The new laws require all 27 EU member states to take some responsibility for managing asylum applications – including those who voted against the reforms – but the package also makes the rules stricter for applicants.

Therefore, it has been attacked by both those who want to reduce immigration and by campaigners who want to ensure more humane treatment for people trying to reach the EU.

For the latter group, the most contentious part of the package involves establishing border procedures to hold certain types of asylum seekers while they are screened and to send back those who don’t qualify. Applicants will spend up to 12 weeks in reception centres until a decision is made.

Applicants who come from a country with an asylum recognition rate in the EU of less than 20 per cent, as well as countries decided to be a public security risk, will be subject to such border checks.

According to the legislation, arrivals to the bloc will also be registered with fingerprints and photos to screen for threats to public security.

On the other hand, countries that get overwhelmed with applications will be able to call for the applicants to be sent to other EU countries.

EU member states now have two years to introduce the legislation into national law.

The relocation mechanism has drawn opposition from leaders trying to reduce migration to their countries, such as Polish Prime Minister – and former European Council president – Donald Tusk and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The two are seldom found on the same side of major EU political debates.

If an EU country does not want to accept people applying for asylum, then that member state must give alternative assistance like financial contributions to a support fund.

The legislation was adopted in a meeting of finance ministers. EU rules allow any formation of national ministers to give final approval to a law on any subject once it has been through all the other steps.

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