Report of the online debates “The struggle on migration policies in the pandemic era: What future for Europe?”, September 28 and 29

On September 28 and 29, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Portugal and the NOVA Refugee Clinic – Legal Clinic from the NOVA University of Lisbon organized the online debates “The struggle on migration policies in the pandemic era: what future for Europe?” which stressed the current EU-migration policies, with a specific focus on the impact of Covid-19 on the European border regime. The event coincided with the launch of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum by the European Commission a few days ago.

In the context of Covid-19 there are serious concerns that the strict border controls will be normal and lead to further restrictions of other human rights in the future.

The first day of the event started with presentations from Mariagiulia Giuffré and Niovi Vavoula, whose main areas of research are on Human Rights and European Migration Law, chaired by David Fernandez-Rojo. Unsurprisingly, the focus was set on the border management and their legal impacts: Do have states the obligation to help migrations in emergency situations, even in consideration of Covid-19? The speakers stated cleary that the EU-member states not only have the obligation to implement rescue mechanisms but also that safety for migrants implies the supply of food, water and basic sanitation on land. In the context of Covid-19 there are serious concerns that the strict border controls will be normal and lead to further restrictions of other human rights in the future. From this perspective Covid-19 doesn’t serve as a reason, but more as an excuse to reinforce strict internal border controls.

The first panel finished with the presentation of Maurice Stierl, whose ideas were dedicated to the political effects of the migration struggle. Stierl emphasized that EU-Migration History has always been characterized through exclusions, and since the last years, as a reaction to the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, the EU-politics follows the patterns of securitization and criminalization of migration and externalization of border controls.

The second panel, moderated by Francisco Pereira Coutinho and opened by Birgit Sippel, who is a current Member of the European Parliament, stressed the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, which was released only a few days before the event. This new Migration Pact consists of various documents that regulate the further migration policies of the member states. Sippel stated that Migration is something normal and has always been part of human history: People migrate for different reasons, but some motives for migration like civil wars have unfortunately remained the same. According to Sippel the difficult challenge is the solidarity with the receiving countries of migrants, especially with border states such as Italy and Greece. In consequence, Sippel demands that the integration of migrants and asylum seekers is the responsibility of all member states.

The session was closed by the presentation of Vasco Malta, who reminded that people tend to overestimate the presence of migrants, and the discussion about EU-migration politics treats actually a very small number of migrants, which doesn’t exceed a few percent of the whole European Union population.

While on the first day of the event the contributions focused on migration policies at the EU level, on the following day, chaired by Emellin de Oliveira, the focus was also on the situation at national level. Marie-Laure Basilien-Gainche, Ana Rita Gil, Christina Cavallo, Yasemin Bekyol, Shaza Alrihawi and Alexander Kpatue Kweh gave an insight into developments in France, Portugal, Italy and Germany. Apart from different political constellations and national characteristics at the national level, which are historically, culturally, socio-economically and last but not least geographically determined, the contributions of the speakers showed that the EU member states are facing similar challenges: Essential characteristics such as the criminalization and securitization of migration, the inhumane conditions at the EU hotspots, and the policy of containment at the so-called “hotspots” on the external borders, will remain a substantial part of the migration policies of the member states. Considering this perspective, the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum is not a new strategy, but more a relaunch of older proposals.

From a progressive perspective, the speakers emphasized the fundamental importance of human rights, as well as the importance of pressure from civil society on governments.

From a progressive perspective, the speakers emphasized the fundamental importance of human rights, as well as the importance of pressure from civil society on governments. In order to implement a migration policy based on human rights, it needs the enforcement of already existing legislative frameworks, such the Refugee Convention, which established a bundle of rights, and additionally new agreements, which strengthen the solidarity especially with states of Southern Europe.

Author of the report: Milton Menezes, FES Portugal