European Union adopted policy documents on displacement, Roma rights and anti-racism

27.10.2020
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In September 2020, the European Commission adopted a number of policy documents, including the EU Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025 and the EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation.

Despite the fact that these documents relate only to the member-countries of the European Community, some standards are also applicable to both the EU’s foreign policy and the Union’s partner countries. In some cases, the adopted policy documents can serve as an example for the progressive practice of standards and practices at the regional level.

European Commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum was developed by the EC in an attempt to resolve the current migration crisis in the EU. This package of documents was submitted by the Commission on September 23, 2020 and it deals with the issues of asylum and violation of current legislation. The European Commission said that the issues related to regular migration will be developed later. Some documents of the Pact require consideration and adoption by the European Parliament and the European Council.

By way of introducing this legislation, vice-president of the EC Margaritis Schinas has described the three main elements of the Pact: EU cooperation with third countries to reduce migration, expedited border procedures and more efficient return procedures and sharing of responsibilities between the EU countries regarding the resources and asylum seekers. Numerous international and human rights organizations criticized the regulation proposed by the Commission. Human rights activists pointed out that the Pact as a whole focuses on the return procedure instead of systemic solutions for changing the migration policy. The Pact does not introduce major changes to the existing “Dublin system” of asylum, although asylum seekers have the opportunity to obtain asylum in countries where their relatives live or where applicants have previously studied/worked. Instead of the expected “redistribution” procedures for asylum seekers between the EU countries, the Pact enables countries to pay the costs of deportation. At the same time, the Pact introduced new procedures for the examination of an asylum application and decision-making at the EU borders with the use of a 10-month detention of the applicant. The proposed legislation reinforces the already existing trend of shifting responsibility for migrants to countries bordering the EU through various financing schemes, cooperation on migration control issues, conclusion of readmission agreements and similar measures. Such actions will continue to lead to serious violations of human rights in bordering countries and crisis situations in the future, as is already the case in Libya or Turkey.

At the same time, the Pact also has some positive provisions, including protection of the rights of children and family unity, taking into account the best interests of the child, introducing a procedure for independent monitoring of fundamental rights in case of a border-crossing procedures and the ability to obtain a long-term residence permit three years after receiving refugee status.

It is important that the EU enshrines the priority of the best interests of the child in all its decisions on migration issues and obliges to take into account the views of the child at all stages of the procedure, to provide an alternative to detention and fast family reunification. The Pact establishes the appointment of a representative for unaccompanied migrant children as soon as possible, and also excludes unaccompanied children and children under 12 years old together with their families from status determination procedures at the border. We hope that these standards will be applied by the EU not only in domestic policy, but also in relations with third countries, including when returning families with children and unaccompanied children under readmission agreements with the Eastern European countries, and will become a practice that will adopted by other countries.

Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025 was adopted by the European Commission on 18 September, 2020. This document recognized the problem of structural and institutional racism and the need to counter them with the help of complex and proactive measures for the first time at such a high political level of the European Union.

The document enshrines racial and ethnic equality in different areas of the European Union policy and creates the EU’s Task Force for Equality and an anti-racism coordinator who will work closely with various ethnic minorities, the EU member states, the European Parliament, scientists and the civil society. The Commission also undertakes to consult with racial or ethnic minorities during the preparation and drafting of its policies and legislation. The Commission urged the EU member states to improve their national legislation and adopt national action plans against racism for a period before 2022. The Commission will approve general guidelines for national plans and general principles for their implementation, as well as provide its first report by the end of 2023.

However, the Commission did not recognize ethnic profiling as an illegal practice, which becomes one of the sources of rights violations and discrimination by law enforcement agencies. The plan also lacks specific provisions on structural racism faced by migrants in the EU.

The EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation was presented by the European Commission on 7 October, 2020, as part of the Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025 described above. The strategic framework is a series of commitments and mechanisms for achieving equality and inclusion of Roma in the European Union. Certain provisions relate to the EU partner countries and their foreign policy.

According to experts, the European Commission took into account the shortcomings of the previous strategy adopted for 2011-2020. Thus, in addition to the four main priority areas (education, housing, employment and healthcare) the Commission added the fight against anti-Romanyism. This is an important step towards the recognition of racial stereotypes against Roma in many countries.

In addition, the strategy also raises the issue of documenting Roma. The Commission urged the EU member states and candidate countries to include provisions in national plans to address the situation of statelessness and problems in obtaining documents faced by Roma people and Roma communities. The Commission called on its member states to “end statelessness among Roma by ensuring universal birth registration, access to documents and procedures for defining statelessness”.

An important change from the previous strategy was the presence of indicators, which form the basis for the European Commission’s monitoring of the implementation of its commitments and progress achieved by the states. Indicators have been developed for each thematic area, goals, recommendations for their achievement and assessment.

At the same time, the strategy is not a legislative document of the EU, it is an act of “soft” legislation, it does not impose obligations on the EU member states to adopt and effectively implement national strategies to improve the situation of Roma, finance them from national budgets and evaluate their implementation.