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10/12/2016

Church leaders propose lifting of visa requirement for Syrians, Iraqis

Justice & Home Affairs

Church leaders propose lifting of visa requirement for Syrians, Iraqis

Five organisations representing the Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Churches and Christian service, have sent a letter to EU justice and home affairs ministers, asking, among other things, that the EU lifts its visa requirement for Syrian and Iraqi nationals living in war zones.

EU justice and home ministers will meet on Monday (14 September) in Brussels to discuss the latest proposals by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who hopes to convince EU member states to accept the mandatory distribution of 160,000 refugees.

>>Read : Juncker defies EU countries with distribution plan for 160,000 refugees

Five organisations, EU-CORD, ActAlliance EU, Eurodiaconia, Ccme and Cec, sent a letter to the ministers ahead of their meeting, saying that they cannot accept “the death, destitution and dehumanizing across our Union that is a direct result of asylum and migration policies that are unrealistic, unfocused on human beings and lack solidarity”.

They therefore call on the EU and its member states to commit to a number of measures to facilitate the safe arrival of the refugees and improve their reception in EU countries.

Among other things, the five organisations propose the lifting of visa requirements for persons fleeing from conflict zones, mentioning Syria and Iraq.

If Syrian and Iraqi nationals are exempted from the visa requirement, they could take commercial flights from neighbouring countries such as Turkey or Jordan, or even from Baghdad or Damascus, straight to EU countries, avoiding the dangerous and expensive crossing of foreign countries and the Mediterranean.

But on the other hand, such an ability to travel would undoubtedly increase the influx of asylum seekers to the EU, or at least to the borderless Schengen zone, which has a common visa policy.

Asked if such an idea was realistic, Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva said it was important not to mix up people travelling under normal circumstances and those fleeing from war. But she added that people fleeing conflicts should be allowed to board a plane without a visa.

Indeed, EU Directive EC/51/2001 clearly states that the obligation of member states to impose penalties on carriers for taking onboard passengers without visas doesn’t apply in cases if a third country national is seeking international protection.

This means that a person seeking international protection could directly board a plane to the EU, which is hardly realistic, and difficult to imagine.

Other possibilities, Andreeva said, include the granting by the consulates of member states of humanitarian visas quickly to people who are fleeing from war so that they can board a plane.

And, finally, she said that the Commission is working with member states on a comprehensive resettlement scheme, which is the main legal avenue to the EU for people fleeing from war.

Positions

EPAM, Social Platform and CONCORD Europe – the three largest coalitions of European NGOs working on development, social rights, asylum and migration – called on member state governments and ministers to create a more welcoming Europe.

Among other things, they said that they expected member states to put forward concrete proposals to revise and open new regular channels for migration. According to the statement, such proposals must go beyond the Blue Card and high-skilled labour migration and include humanitarian and family sponsorship schemes for protection, sufficient channels to meet labour market needs in lower-skilled sectors as well as the laws and administrative capacity to facilitate family reunification.