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The EU Migration Pact: Here's what it means (in a five-minute summary)

The EU Asylum and Migration Pact, which the Government decided Ireland would opt into, isn’t the most flashily named agreement but it’s still a significant international accord that you’ll almost definitely be hearing a lot more about.

The pact has been in train for a few years and contains lots of technical language about legal mechanisms and things called ‘procedures’, but it can all be explained in a five-minute read.

The simplest explanation is that the pact is a European agreement that will update how the EU’s 27 member states and other Schengen countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) manage migration and asylum seekers from 2026.

Five main proposals

  • To create uniform rules around the identification of people who arrive in Europe from outside the EU to claim asylum;
  • To develop a common database about new arrivals to Europe, which can paint a more accurate picture of migration trends;
  • To speed up decisions on claims made by asylum seekers who enter Europe;
  • To establish a ‘solidarity mechanism’ so that all countries share responsibility for asylum applications, rather than those that are at the edge of Europe;
  • To ensure that the EU is prepared for future crises, including the weaponisation of migration.

In practice, it’ll mean different procedures for how asylum seekers are dealt with once the pact goes live in 2026.

Dublin III reform

The pact will reform the current Dublin III mechanism which states that the country where a person first sets foot is responsible for handling their asylum claim.

In recent years, that has placed a huge burden on Italy, Greece and Malta, which have managed huge numbers of arrivals from across the Mediterranean and from land routes like Turkey.

The mandatory solidarity mechanism will instead force all member states take in a certain number of asylum seekers arriving from those countries at the edge of Europe, or to pay a monetary or material contribution to the EU instead based on population, GDP, and the number of asylum applications the country receives.

It’s expected that at least 30,000 asylum seekers will come under this relocation system every year, with countries expected to pay €20,000 for each person they decline to accept.

But reform of Dublin III will also give Ireland permission to return IP applicants who have moved here back to another EU member state to have their claim processed if they have travelled here from that country.

Secondary movement

One of the biggest changes highlighted by Irish officials is the pact’s aim to cut down on so-called ‘secondary movement’, whereby people seek international protection in a country different to the one in which they first arrived.

It’s currently estimated that between 50% and 70% of IP applicants currently arriving in Ireland are secondary movers.

This does not necessarily mean that fewer IP applicants will arrive in Ireland under the new system: officials said that future migration trends are impossible to predict, and Ireland may be required to process more under the ‘solidarity mechanism’.

When they arrive in Europe, asylum seekers will be required to complete a new vetting procedure and will not be deemed to have entered the EU until they do so.

They will undergo identity, health and security checks, and have biometric readings of their faces and fingerprints recorded.

This will streamline people into one of three groups: those who will go through the regular asylum application process; those who will go through an accelerated process; and those who will be sent back to their country of origin or transit.

Detention centres

The key change here is the accelerated process and the ability to immediately send people back to their country of origin or transit.

People from countries whose nationals’ applications for international protection are rejected in at least 80% of cases will be processed along the accelerated route.

Rather than being processed in a country, they will be processed near the EU’s “external borders” (land frontiers, ports and airports) so they could be quickly sent back if their request is judged to be unfounded or inadmissible.

This will require the use of detention centres, which will hold up to 30,000 people can at any period. The EU expects up to 120,000 people to pass through the centres annually.

Given the requirement to speed up asylum applications and the possibility that Ireland will have to process more asylum claims under the solidarity mechanism, the government will invest heavily in staff, technology, and processing systems.

It’s expected that European funding to be made available to do this.

'Safe countries'

The European Commission will also develop its own list of ‘safe countries of origin’ that will be applicable at EU level, which will mean that people who arrive via a country deemed “safe” enough to lodge an asylum claim could have their EU application rejected.

The pact has been presented as a positive development by the EU and the Irish Government, but has been criticised across the political spectrum by both anti-immigrant groups and human rights organisations.

Amnesty International claim the pact will increase the suffering experienced by asylum seekers journeying to Europe, while also reinforcing EU dependence on third-party nations (like Libya and Turkey) to manage migration without actually addressing the root causes of migration or creating safer pathways for asylum seekers.

Others have suggested that the ‘solidarity mechanism’ will simply lead to more nations paying their way out of taking asylum seekers, which could in turn increase the burden on countries at the edge of Europe.

Another human rights-focused criticism argues that the pact assumes that those coming to Europe are gaming the system and not really in danger, despite official statistics showing that most people who seek protection are fleeing persecution and violence.

Opponents on both sides

Meanwhile, anti-immigrant groups have railed against the Government for signing up to the pact because they claim it will lead to Ireland having to accept even more IP applicants.

Others, including Sinn Féin and the far-right Irish Freedom Party, have questioned why the Government signed up to the pact when Denmark opted out of it – the only EU country alongside Ireland that could do so.

Under a pre-existing agreement, Denmark has an opt-out from EU laws under the pillar of Justice and Home Affairs, which means it does not partake in EU immigration and asylum policy. Ireland has a similar opt-out clause under the pillar arising from the Lisbon Treaty.

By opting in, the Irish Government will commit to introducing a programme of legislation that will replace the current International Protection Act by 2026.


May 1, 2024



Stephen McDermott

Assistant News Editor and FactChecker with The Journal

The Journal
Knowledge Bank

FactCheck is a central unit of Ireland’s leading digital native news site, The Journal. For over a decade, we have strived to be an independent and objective source of information in an online world that is full of noise and diversions.

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