The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) has decided to ask the European Commission to table a legislative proposal on an EU-wide humanitarian visa programme that would allow people seeking international protection to enter EU territory.

The initiative proposes the possibility to directly apply for humanitarian visas at embassies and consulates abroad, for the sole purpose of submitting an application for international protection. Such an application would lead to a first assessment of a well-founded need for international protection, which should not substitute full status determination proceedings. Applicants would also have to go through an initial security screening to ensure they will not pose security risks to EU Member States.

The current Visa Code includes the provision of a visa with limited territorial validity, on the basis of humanitarian grounds or the Member States’ international obligations. Although the provision does include humanitarian considerations, it remains generally worded and does not specifically mention situations where need for international protection arises. The committee’s proposal, however, could aim for the inclusion of concrete provisions for persons seeking international protection, ensuring an adequate need assessment framework and relevant safeguards.

Similar comments on the need for less vague visa provisions have been made by the same committee in the past, in the context of a recast Visa Code Regulation proposal, which has since been withdrawn. Moreover, last year the Court of Justice of the European Union decided to leave the responsibility for granting humanitarian visas with Member States. A case of refusal of humanitarian visa for the purpose of applying for international protection is currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Addressing the rationale of such an initiative, Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES), rapporteur, has said: “Against the background of an unacceptable death toll in the Mediterranean, the EP needs to deliver. […] We need to do more to help those human beings in need, as there are currently clearly not enough legal and safe pathways to the EU for those seeking international protection.”

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Photo (CC) Ian Mackenzie, March 2007

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.