October 2020 Migration Workshop Findings
MEDEA has identified various common and recurrent gaps that have emerged through the working scenarios. The gaps have been grouped under three topic areas namely:
- Policies and Legal Issues;
- Tools, Means, Risks and Training
- Practitioners cooperation and Common processes.
12 Crucial Migration Issues
Following feedback from the online workshop, the following findings emerged:
Need to amend and re-enforce the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) so that the practitioners’ requirements and needs are represented within the CEAS network.
The existence of different directives, national legislations, and EU Legislation constitutes a major challenge, so a unified legal framework is an imperative need for practitioners. Different procedures result in different outcomes related to the admittance of refugees and asylum seekers across EU Member States. In the case of unaccompanied minors there is a huge gap in issues of protection and detection, as well as provisions for conditions in detention centers for minors. EU legislation is effectively communicated to practitioners, however, the implementation involves different administrations, governments, activities, etc., thus cooperation among countries is imperative, to achieve same protection of the fundamental rights of individuals. Furthermore, the lack of a homogeneous access to the asylum procedure leads to discriminatory practices and complicates the process with incongruities between national and international laws regarding protection.
There is no need for more European legislation but, instead, a higher need for common practices or guidelines for practitioners. In the new Migration Pact the European Commission has drawn a proposal of amendment to the Dublin Regulation, which will be replaced by a common framework called “Asylum and migration management regulation”. The idea is that asylum and detention will come together in one single document that contains both procedures. The document will include determination of which country will handle asylum applications. However, COVID-19 may pose difficulties in the application of these regulations and provisions.
After considering two interconnected gaps vis-à-vis SaR, namely the fact that we have at our disposal insufficient means, while at the same time there is a perceived lack of coordination for effective SaR operations, the webinar findings were the following: SaR operations are mostly assumed by the Coast Guard, while police and various law enforcement authorities assist the Coast Guard in their efforts. Frontex supports SAR operations with surveillance capabilities while those operations are coordinated by the national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC). Since private entities (such as NGOs) intervene in SaR operations with vessels, the European Commission has formed recommendations for the cooperation between them and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Implementing these recommendations is crucial for the safety of everyone involved.
Following a webinar participant’s question on whether the existence of vessels for SaR offers an additional incentive for migrants to cross over to Europe, knowing that they will be rescued should anything happen, the general consensus was that although this would seem to be the case, it is not an important factor by itself. Since this is a complex issue, we must take into consideration the fact that organized crime networks, that partake in migrant smuggling, would try their best to avoid routes where they would come across SaR vessels. So, although the existence of vessels provides both a pull and a push factor vis-à-vis illegal immigration, in most cases where migrant boats see SaR vessels in the Aegean Sea, they quickly flee without approaching.
No adequate training provided to practitioners related to the current legislation concerning human trafficking (esp. migrant smuggling) and the protection of unac-companied minors.
There is a need for consistent and continuous training regarding identification at the border, which should mainly consist of screening technology and up-to-date workshops on investigative tools, persecution, criminal networks etc. (already provided in some EU Member States). Some of the challenges that have been identified regarding human trafficking, are linked to the fact that small ships with few migrants follow new routes, while transporting criminals mixed among the migrants. Therefore, identification of migrants, victims, and criminals, as well as the timely identification of the new routes, is crucial. Effective coordination of different stakeholders is needed in that respect.
The main identification protocol relies on interviews and collection of immigrants’ fingerprints, however immigrants occasionally lie about the information they provide, making the need for accurate and precise information more critical1. A possible solution would be the creation of information hotspots with translators, cultural mediators, forensic police and other law enforcement authorities.
Unaccompanied minors appear more distressed and do not adjust easily. They need additional help and guidance due to their inability to adequately absorb useful information and instructions regarding their next steps. Therefore, legal aid expressly for them should be put into place, in order to provide advice and support in preparing their applications for international protection or family reunification. NGOs could offer crucial help in this domain.
A step in the right direction was also made by the Commission’s proposal for a new pact on migration and asylum, which exempts minors from border procedures.
Furthermore, additional caution should be exercised while sharing information on minors. Due to their inherent vulnerability, all processes should be applied carefully and ‘by the book’, and always in contact with the public authorities (note: The prosecutor is appointed as the temporary guardian of the minors).
Lack of effective enhanced cooperation among EU MS, as well as between MS and third countries – need for an advanced return process
A priority of utmost importance is the effective cooperation not only among Member States but also with third countries, whether they are countries of origin or transit. Cooperation with third countries is imperative, as there are different policies for each country (e.g. for return process etc.). The common theme that emerges through the efforts for such collaboration is the fact that third countries lack capacities and are unmotivated to efficiently cooperate in migration and asylum matters. This unwillingness causes delays and stems from many factors. First, countries of transit or origin often have their own significant internal problems to tackle, thus viewing migration as less of a priority. Hence, if they deem that there is nothing to gain, or that the benefits in cooperating with EU Member States regarding migrants and asylum seekers are not substantial enough, they are disinclined to work towards this goal.
Another component of critical significance is the existence of different legislations among EU Member States. This causes lags in decision making and policy formation. Consequently, those lags become more apparent between the Member States and third countries, since diverse legislations hinder prompt and effective cooperation, often leading to inertia.
To confront this issue, it is important to start a concrete dialogue with third, neighbouring countries and countries of origin under the auspices of the EU institutions. Furthermore, it is crucial to find ways to support the stabilization of neighboring countries, since political and social unrest is a main driver behind emigration and asylum seeking. However, the point was made that it would be counter-productive to sign new agreements with third countries when there are already existing agreements that are still pending to materialise. The agreements that are in place should be resolved, concluded, and evaluated before going on to making new ones.
Information databases / repositories from various practitioners at National and European level are not interconnected
Information exchange among practitioners of EU Member States, as well as between Member States and third countries, is of crucial importance. Limited access to information regarding third countries provides an additional obstacle. Municipalities, NGOs, and universities have been working on a system to predict migration flows from data received from migrants and countries of origin. European projects along with their respective online platforms create a valid means to share information and develop these data exchange tools. Information exchanges must exercise caution as data security should be guaranteed and well protected, and technological glitches addressed promptly. A sizeable amount of information may be found in social networks and it has been observed that social media have the capacity to drive migration flows. It should be noted that it is vital in this aspect to not forget the human factor. Often, information exchange between practitioners is not technological but procedural. Similarly, in several cases, physical meetings are preferred by practitioners for the exchange of personal data since certain technological systems are not always secure1. Information exchange between LEAs and EU agencies such as Europol and Frontex is continuous. There is also exchange between the Member States with the support of the European agencies. It should be noted that certain information exchanges between Member States’ LEAs need a specific judicial or high rank hierarchy authorization. NGOs have a protocol for exchanging information with LEAs, which takes in consideration the confidentiality of the data. Furthermore, NGOs frequently exchange information with other NGOs. This information exchange is especially important when dealing with vulnerable migrant cases2. In addition, those who work with unaccompanied minors are always in contact with public authorities and prosecutors. Understandably, information related to minors is delicate and must comply with the GDPR. Consequently, before sharing personal information with other organizations or practitioners it is necessary to ask for permission from the public prosecutor’s office.
The Common Integrated Risk Analysis Model (CIRAM) is a model that LEAs in Member states have to apply. It is regulatory by Frontex and mandatory for all Member States integrating all the aspects from border management. The monitoring and assessment are carried out by Frontex on a regular basis. Joint operations and rapid border interventions are preceded by a reliable risk analysis. Member States take the results of the risk analyses and integrate them to their operations and activities at the external borders and activities, including activities at the external borders, including returns. Frontex also produces yearly a vulnerability assessment to assess the readiness of Member States to assess threat and new challenges. Using this vulnerability assessment, Frontex recommends specific actions to mitigate those vulnerabilities. However, the need of new enhanced guidelines, effective processes and risk assessment are emphasized, as based on the new Frontex regulation. The EU together with the Member States are working to develop more focused and tailor-made capability roadmaps and capability planning.
There is a general lack of advanced technological mechanisms and resources at the disposal of practitioners, which would be vital in order to improve efficiency in preventive security measures. For example, there is a perceived need for sophisticated border crossing preventive mechanisms such as state-of-the-art detectors and radars. Also, depending on the type of landscape, early detection can be more effective. Therefore, in such areas it would be beneficial to use new technology such as advanced video analytics. Additionally, it is necessary to improve current capabilities related to the detection of falsified (fraudulent) documents. Likewise, practitioners should be equipped with the appropriate tools and training to also detect falsified documents which are often provided by migrants.
Undeniably, in order to be able to use such new technology, the current regulatory framework must be amended to encompass the adoption of new technological solutions.
The new Frontex regulation is now being implemented. Frontex and Member States work together to develop capability roadmaps and capability planning and to look for and implement specific technologies and solutions to replace or complement the general ones that are now in place. In this context, it is necessary to take into account for future actions the new technologies that will emerge in the next few years, new network environments, encryption systems, and advanced communications in the digital world. It is critical to tackle the gap of interoperability, through finding common ground and building systems, solutions, and networks so that they can interact in a common language.
Practitioners operate in a highly stressful environment, often amid humanitarian crises. They face health hazards related to both psychological and physical health, two aspects closely inter-related in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has made a huge impact on the psychology of practitioners, due to the continuous stress they are subjected to. Since immigrants are held in quarantine for several days, the risk of virus contamination is high among practitioners. Given the precarious situation that the pandemic creates, more psychological and psycho-social support and improved sanitary conditions are needed in order to increase the practitioners’ resilience. In addition, there is a need for training, psychological support and special capabilities for individuals working with unaccompanied minors and for the minors themselves who suffer high levels of stress living apart from their families.
Absence of an independent authority (e.g. Observatory) among EU for rules and responsibilities of relevant actors
There are institutions monitoring the application of human rights and checking this at both national level and higher levels (e.g. at the EU level or with FRA institution, an organization in charge of monitoring migration issues and human rights). However, these efforts should be enhanced on a national level and have EU and higher-level of coordination. In addition, a unified EU registry of NGOs would be valuable, to include not only the monitoring of human rights issues but mainly NGOs which are reliable to undertake tasks such as unaccompanied minors or Search and Rescue (SaR), thereby complementing from a legal point of view the national registry of NGOS. It is vital however to ascertain that administrative requirements for registering NGOs should be not extensively bureaucratic, so that NGOs will be able to effectively deliver their humanitarian work.