(Source: MJ/Vatican Radio)

Caritas Europa has voiced disappointment in the EU Pact on Asylum and Migration unveiled Wednesday at European Union headquarters in Brussels.

The Catholic Church’s humanitarian network in Europe released a statement that said that the agreement “falls short of expectations for shifting the EU’s direction toward more balanced and humane migration policies.”

The need for the long-awaited migration pact was dramatically highlighted when over 12,000 men, women and children housed in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos were left stranded, and even more vulnerable, when the facility burnt to the ground on September 9.

The Pact

The Pact unveiled September 23 aims to streamline the asylum process among member states to fix what all EU leaders acknowledged was an ineffective and unjust system.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the new Pact would strike a “reasonable balance” with all member states sharing the “benefits” and “burdens.”

She added that it wasn’t a question of “whether” EU states should contribute but “how.”

Deterrence instead of relocation

But Caritas Europa claimed, “the Pact’s top priorities seem to be deterrence, preventing migration to the EU, and intensifying cooperation with countries of origin and transit about irregular movements and return.”

The organisation said it had hoped that the Moria catastrophe would change the policies aiming to keep migrants at Europe’s doorstep, but expressed the opinion that the incident has not led the EU to “radically change its course or to propose policies that would definitively prevent the creation of future, undignified migrant camps.”

Instead, the Pact, Caritas noted, “seems to strengthen asylum and return procedures along EU border states, most likely at the cost of asylum and human rights safeguards, jeopardising the principle of ‘non-refoulment’.”

The Caritas Europa statement concluded: “It remains to be seen if deeply needed intra-EU solidarity will effectively be reinforced to allow a fair share of asylum seekers among EU states through a stable relocation mechanism.”

Appeal for a fair and equitable sharing mechanism

Maria Nyman, Secretary-General of Caritas Europa, expressed concern that the new system “will dilute legal safeguards, and lead to possible ‘refoulement’ and increased detention.”

According to international human rights law, the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they could face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.

Nyman also said there is a danger that the new Pact “will replicate the hotspot model implemented in Moria, which has entailed overcrowded and undignified reception facilities and containment of people and has proven to be a total failure for migrants and the local population alike.”

She said that it is unacceptable that the Pact, proposed to replace the Dublin Regulation, will allow EU member states the option of avoiding relocation of migrants and refugees by facilitating their return.

The Caritas Europa Secretary-General finally called for “a fair, predictable and sustainable responsibility-sharing mechanism among EU Member States,” noting that “without an equitable system to distribute asylum seekers throughout Europe, which takes into account the family and personal ties of the people being relocated, the new Pact is doomed to fail.”

On Novena, more Church responses to the migration crisis in Europe:

Churches urge fix for “fundamentally broken” state of migration, refugee system in Europe

Orthodox Archbishop of Athens rips “repressive” EU refugee policies, says “welcoming the stranger… an integral part of Christian heritage”

Church groups warn EU: inaction after Lesbos refugee tragedy “will lead to blame and shame before history”

Caritas Greece insists “ticking bomb” of Moria refugee camp “should never have existed”, pleads with EU for common migration policy

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