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New EU migration pact will make walls of ‘fortress Europe’ higher

MEPs vote through highly contentious reform of EU asylum policy in effort to harden bloc’s borders and discourage flow of migrants

After years of faltering starts and winding negotiations, the long-debated and highly contentious reform of EU asylum policy finally cleared the European Parliament on Wednesday.

The new migration pact will harden up the European Union’s borders and includes measures to help southern countries, often the point of arrival for asylum seekers, better shoulder that burden.

Eight years in the making, 10 Bills that made up the reform package were approved by the 705-seat parliament by margins of less than 30 votes in some cases. The measures will firm up asylum policy in an effort to discourage the flow of migrants fleeing to Europe to try to build a better life, who would not be entitled to asylum.

Human rights organisations say the move towards quicker timelines to process some asylum cases could increase the risk of vulnerable people’s claims being incorrectly refused. There are concerns new reception facilities such as those already opened on the Greek island of Samos, where conditions have been described as “prison-like”, will proliferate across the EU’s borders and become the norm.

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The pact was opposed by MEPs in the left and Green groupings, who could not stomach it, as well as on the far right, who felt it did not go far enough. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael MEPs backed the reforms, but the other Irish MEPs voted against the majority of its measures.

Many MEPs from the centre who were not happy with many aspects of the deal held their noses and voted it through. This was in part due to fears that going back to the drawing board would result in even harsher proposals being put forward in the next parliament.

For much of the last decade the EU has been struggling to respond to what in 2015 was dubbed the “migration crisis”. The current pact was proposed by the commission four years ago, but has its roots in previous efforts to reform asylum policy as far back as 2016.

What are not covered in the pact, but which will provide the backdrop to the policy, are side deals that have been struck with countries on the other side of the Mediterranean. The EU has agreements with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, providing funding in exchange for help in curbing the number of asylum seekers trying to make the crossing to Europe. Alongside those deals, the result of the vote on Wednesday sends the message that the walls of “fortress Europe” are set to become higher and the barbed wire sharper.

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