13 March 2015

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has called on the EU and its Member States to offer more possibilities for persons in need of international protection to arrive in the EU legally, and in safety, in order to reduce lives lost at sea as well as prevent ongoing abuses by smuggling networks. The Agency has further urged the European Commission to make the increased use of legal avenues a core component of its forthcoming plan to fight smuggling in human beings.

The paper highlights that opportunities to enter the EU lawfully are extremely limited for persons in need of international protection, and presents a toolbox of possible schemes EU Member States could use to enable more persons in need of international protection to reach the EU without resorting to smugglers.

FRA calls on all EU Member States to put in place a resettlement programme, according to their capacities, and to explore distinct humanitarian admission schemes which are not limited to those who qualify as refugees and could be used for internally displaced persons.

FRA underlines that nationals from countries at war are usually denied visas due to the risk that they would overstay. Often, they also need a visa even to transit through an EU Member State. In addition, people who are persecuted often fear approaching diplomatic representations, usually intensively surveilled by security forces. Furthermore, for security or political reasons, EU Member States have often to close down their diplomatic representations in war-torn countries. The report underlines the example of Schengen visas issued in Syria to Syrian nationals that dropped from over 30,000 in 2010 to almost zero in 2013. 

FRA suggests that ‘mobile’ Schengen visa centres could ease access to visas for persons in need of international protection, who might face difficulties in reaching consular representations. The report further advances that whilst EU law does not provide for a separate humanitarian visa procedure there are possibilities to depart from usual visa requirements in the Visa Code based on humanitarian grounds. FRA therefore calls on the EU institutions and Member States to further explore the possibilities of using ”humanitarian visas,” especially in light of the current revision of the Code.

Furthermore, FRA urges Member States to overcome practical and legal obstacles preventing people from joining family members in the EU. FRA highlights Switzerland’s visa facilitation for non-core family members of Syrians in Switzerland for three months in 2013.

The report also identifies the possibilities of strengthening labour and entrepreneurs’ mobility schemes, focusing on groups of people in need of protection, as well as student mobility whereby individuals receive scholarships to study in the EU.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.