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Ylva Johansonn meeting with Spanish NGOs in Madrid on February 17, 2020. Twitter

European Commissioner of the Interior defends asylum after ECHR ruling

The European Commissioner of the Interior defended the right of migrants to ask for asylum, and even though this right “cannot be offered at each meter of the border” it should be, she argued.

Published: February 20, 2020, 9:14 am

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    The European Commission believes the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Spain in the case of the immediate return of sub-Saharan immigrants who jumped the fence at Melilla in 2014, could not be compatible with current community legislation.

    The fifty-six year-old European Commissioner of the Interior Ylva Johansson, who is from Sweden and in charge of negotiating the future European policy of asylum and immigration, noted in statements to Spanish daily El Pais that “the right of asking for asylum must always be granted”.

    However, she conceded that that right “cannot be offered at every meter of the border,” and that the member states should have the power to indicate the points where the request should be made.

    The unexpected ruling by the Strasbourg Court, indicate a progressive hardening in the EU’s migration policy. The organisation was shaken in 2015 by a migration crisis that shook the foundations of the Schengen zone [internal border controls continue among several EU members, ed.] to the point of bringing down a leader as powerful as the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

    In 2015 more than 1,2 million people requested asylum in the EU, double that of the previous year. Germany registered 5 400 requests for every million inhabitants, Austria, 9 900, and Hungary, 17 700. The flow was closed after an agreement between the EU and Turkey to retain the exodus from the Syrian war in exchange for €6 billion.

    Johansson has among the specific tasks of her mandate to mend the divide left by that crisis and recoup the confidence among countries at odds, with Merkel’s Germany and Viktor Orban’s Hungary as symbols of the respective sides.

    After a commission presided over by Jean-Claude Juncker, clearly aligned with the open border principle defended by Merkel, the current president, Ursula von der Leyen, has been trying to convince Hungary and Poland to search for a consensus that still seems difficult if not impossible.

    Von der Leyen’s strategy, for now, has been to offer Budapest and Warsaw the promise of reinforced exterior borders and the commitment that illegal immigrants will be returned to their countries of origin as expeditiously as possible.

    The ECHR ruling seems to open the way for this which till now had been interpreted as being contrary to community rights.

    “No, I am not in shock over the ruling,” said Johansson during a meeting in her office at the seat of the European Commission, where she has occupied the position of commissioner since last December 1.

    Johansson however demanded “more time” to study the verdict and draw all the conclusions. Without a detailed analysis by her department, the former Swedish Minister of Health sees the interpretations of some judges and analysts as being “disproportionate”, which points to a coming clash between the ruling and the right of asylum.

    Johansson stressed again and again that “it is important to highlight that the right of asylum should always be conceded”. But she also contradicted this statement by saying that “the member states cannot facilitate this possibility in all sites”.

    The commissioner recalled that “some member states have a very long border, and the possibility of requesting asylum cannot be offered at every meter of that border”.

    The commissioner defended the right of the states to designate “the point at the border where one has to go to request asylum,” although she specified that that situation should be managed at all times by “respecting fundamental rights”.

    Johansson believes, for example, that one should not tell the potential refugee to go 2 000 kilometers to present the request [for asylum] suggesting that the ECHR ruling would not be enforced.

    This is a potential rift that has opened within Europe between the European Commission and the European Court of Human Rights. The latter has issued a ruling that permits the “hard return” of illegal migrants, meaning immediate deportation – which runs contrary to the policies of the EC.

    In March 2018, Johansson appeared on the BBC, where she claimed that the number of reported rapes and sexual harassment cases in Sweden “is going down and going down and going down.” Johansson later apologised and admitted that she had lied.

    Johansonn was praised by Imogen Sudberry of the International Rescue Committee for her response to the ECHR ruling in the Spanish daily. Sudberry’s organsation welcomed the adoption of the Global Migration Compact in particular, which represents a crucial step towards ensuring open borders.

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