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EU signs off on ‘more effective’ asylum rules, ahead of Europe-wide elections

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German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the reform still helps people fleeing persecution, while making “clear that those who do not need this protection cannot come to Germany or must leave Germany much more quickly”.

However, the vast reform package will only enter force in 2026, bringing no immediate fix to an issue that has fuelled one of the EU’s biggest political crises, dividing nations over who should take responsibility for migrants when they arrive and whether other countries should be obliged to help.

Migrants rest on the deck of a rescue ship. The EU on Tuesday gave the final green light to a landmark overhaul of its migration and asylum policies. Photo: AP

Critics say the pact will let nations detain migrants at borders and fingerprint children. They say it’s aimed at keeping people out and infringes on their right to claim asylum. Many fear it will result in more unscrupulous deals with poorer countries that people leave or cross to get to Europe.

The adoption comes a month ahead of EU elections expected to see a surge by far-right parties campaigning on the need to crack down on irregular migration.

The overhaul of the European Union’s asylum rules took nearly a decade of wrangling.

Poland and Hungary remain fiercely against the changes, mainly because of a new bloc-wide “solidarity mechanism” under which they must either take in thousands of asylum seekers or pay the nations that do.

But an overwhelming number of EU countries backed all 10 acts, resulting in its adoption.

The overhaul, spurred by a massive inflow of irregular migrants in 2015, many from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan, has drawn criticism from migrant rights charities as hardening the buttresses of “Fortress Europe”.

Migrants disembark from a Greek coast vessel after a rescue operation. EU ministers on Tuesday gave their final approval to a massive overhaul of the bloc’s migration and asylum laws. Photo: AP

It establishes new border centres that will hold irregular migrants while their asylum requests are vetted. Deportations of those deemed inadmissible will be accelerated.

Proponents of the pact had pushed hard to force it over the finish line ahead of the EU-wide elections in June that could have seen it buried if a more right-wing parliament is chosen.

The European Commission is soon to set out its implementation for it to be operational in less than two years’ time.

In parallel with the sweeping reforms, the EU is stepping up its deals with countries of transit and origin aimed at curbing the number of arrivals.

In recent months, that has seen agreements signed with Tunisia, Mauritania and Egypt.

Italy has also struck its own accord with Albania to send migrants rescued in Italian waters to the country while their asylum requests are treated.

Furthermore, a group of countries spearheaded by Denmark and the Czech Republic are preparing to send a letter pushing for the transfer of migrants picked up at sea to countries outside the EU.

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Asian migrants abandon hope of reaching Europe after series of deadly shipwrecks

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These new migration and asylum pact proposals will fall to the next EU executive, which will take office after the European elections.

But Camille Le Coz, an expert from the Migration Policy Institute Europe, said that there were “many questions” about how any such initiatives could work.

Under EU law, immigrants can only be sent to a country outside the bloc where they could have applied for asylum, provided they have a sufficient link with that country.

That rules out – for now – any programmes such as the United Kingdom’s deal with Rwanda to send arrivals to the African country.

Le Coz said that it still needs “to be clarified” how proposals for any EU outsourcing deals would work, as well as “who the European authorities are working with and which third countries are likely to accept”.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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