Vulnerabilities and the New pact on migration
Disassembling the New Pact on Migration and Asylum
Vulnerabilities and Pre-Screening
On 23 September 2020, the European Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and a package of legislative proposals. During the presentation, Urusula Von der Leyen, President of the Commission, stated that the new Pact would take a humane approach to migration. Von der Leyen added that the images of Moria Camp were painful and they should be a reminder for Europe, bringing hope and expectations towards the new Pact.
The package is extensive. In this article we will focus on the proposal for a “Regulation Introducing a Screening of Third-Country Nationals at the External Borders” (“Screening Regulation”). According to the proposal itself, the justification behind this regulation is the necessity of a quick identification of those in need of international protection and those who do not fit the international protection requirements and are subject to returns. Thus, this Regulation seeks the immediate and fast identification of those who arrive irregularly to the external borders.
For this purpose, the regulation proposes a “pre-entry screening”. During this screening, the authorities of the Member States will have to conduct (i) a preliminary health and vulnerability check, (ii) an identity check, (iii) registration of biometric data in the appropriate databases, and (iv) a security check.
According to Article 9(1) of the “Screening Regulation”, the main goal of the preliminary medical examination is the identification of the need of immediate care or isolation on public health grounds. In this article we will focus our analysis on the issue of health and vulnerability, and the consequences of this 'screening' for vulnerable asylum seekers based on our experience in Lesvos.
During the assessment, the authorities should evaluate if the third country national is in a vulnerable situation, if they are a victim of torture, or if they have special reception or procedural needs following the meaning of recast Article 20 of the Reception Conditions Directive. In case a person has vulnerabilities or special reception or procedural needs, they should receive adequate support regarding their physical and mental health. According to Article 6(3), in normal circumstances, the pre-entry screening should be completed in only five days.
Although the procedure seems straightforward and effective, there are some concerns. There is no definition of what ‘vulnerable situation’ or ‘special reception or procedure conditions’ mean, which means that it will be under the discretion of each Member State to decide. The same can be said about the conditions in which the screening will take place. This means that each Member State can establish different criteria not only depending on the internal political environment, but also on a case by case basis.
Additionally, there is no European mechanism to monitor that fundamental rights are respected during the procedures or to vet for the quality of the assessments. It is clear that this can lead to a lack of accountability and liability in case of procedural and material violations.
These concerns are not unfamiliar to those who have worked in Lesvos in the past years. Currently, the gaps and omissions in the assessment of vulnerabilities and medical problems are an every day reality in Lesvos, leaving many vulnerable asylum seekers in very poor reception conditions and without access to vital healthcare services, forcing them to live in unacceptable and inhumane conditions. The problems concerning the vulnerability assessments have different roots, but three of them are extremely relevant: the lack of competent and qualified professionals to carry out such assessments, the lack of appropriate structures and equipment that can create a safe, private and dignified space to conduct the assessment, and the inability of medical and administrative services to manage such a large number of asylum-seekers in such a short period of time.
Considering the lack of definitions and European monitoring procedures, and the lessons learned by the current practice in the assessment of vulnerabilities – especially experienced on the Greek Islands – disabled and vulnerable asylum seekers will continue to be confined at the European Union external borders in centers without appropriate conditions to answer their special needs. The proposed New Pact brings no changes in this regard.