Parliament mulls EU ‘humanitarian visa’ for migrants
News | 13.07.2018
The European Parliament is considering an initiative to give asylum seekers the opportunity to legally secure their right to entry into Europe before they even set foot on the Continent.
Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar proposed the creation of a “European Humanitarian Visa” in a hearing of Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs this week.
The scheme would allow asylum seekers to legally apply for the visa at any EU member state’s embassy or consulate in their home country. Conversely, it could take the form of a “visa waiver,” permitting asylum seekers from specific countries to enter the Schengen area without any additional legal documentation.
“It’s not about refugees. The so-called refugee crisis is actually a political crisis, which in so many ways questions the political will to respond with a European fashion to a shared and common challenge,” López Aguilar told the hearing.
He said 90 percent of migrants have to use irregular means to get to the Continent, leading to 5,000 recorded deaths in 2016 alone. Irregular entry by migrants also has an indirect financial costs for the EU, such as maintenance of surveillance and border management and the fight against human trafficking.
As well as providing safety for migrants — their mortality rate is almost 2 percent per year, and 79 percent of them have experienced human trafficking and other exploitative practices — the visa scheme could save the EU and member countries millions of euros. One search-and-rescue mission alone can cost the EU up to €216,000, according to a European Value Added Assessment.
The humanitarian visa has a complicated history. Starting as an amendment to broader package of visa reforms led by the European Commission, it was withdrawn by Parliament after a year of negotiations following a European Court of Justice ruling, in a case brought by Belgium, that EU countries could not be obliged to grant such visas.
According to current rules, EU member countries can exercise discretion over whether they want to grant access to asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds. The only other Protected Entry Procedures (PEP) currently available are resettlement via the U.N. Refugee Agency or private schemes.
At the hearing, Michel Dejaegher, former French consul general and head of the French visa department, raised concerns over the high costs for the EU in processing the visas, which could be complicated by the applicants’ potential difficulty travelling to consulates in times of conflict and presenting valid documents.
The report will have its first official reading in Parliament in November.
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