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Politics & Law Series: Expert Comment

The future of the Schengen Agreement

The Paris attacks will lead to temporary border checks but more importantly, Professor Dan Wilsher, a specialist in asylum, immigration and human rights law in the City Law School says signatories to the Schengen Agreement have failed to build ‘burden-sharing’ into their collective asylum policy.
by John Stevenson (Senior Communications Officer)

Migration Europe 

In the wake of the Paris massacre of 13th November, France and Germany suspended the Schengen Agreement, which allows the free movement of citizens across 24 other countries in the European Union.

It has emerged that one of the assailants in the attacks arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos last month as an asylum seeker with a false passport.

He was in possession of a false Syrian passport and followed the well-trodden path of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers escaping war and conflict in Syria and Iraq into Western Europe. At the emergency Brussels meeting of EU interior ministers on 20th November, France is likely to call for an effective suspension of the Schengen ‘open borders’ policy. 

Dan WilsherAlthough the present national security situation is a serious threat to Schengen, Professor Dan Wilsher, a specialist in asylum, immigration and human rights law in the City Law School says the mass movement of people fleeing conflict situations arriving in Southern Europe has exposed a deeper design flaw in the Schengen Agreement: “The real trouble is not the Paris attacks but the migration movements in South-Eastern Europe. The policy adopted by signatories to the Schengen Agreement assumes that asylum-seekers will arrive ‘evenly’ across the EU. Migrants might seek to pass through EU countries onto a chosen destination but this was discouraged by the Dublin Regulation; this permitted later states to pass asylum seekers back to earlier states”.

Professor Wilsher maintains that it will be impossible for this process to take place now “because the smaller countries on the route from Turkey to Greece cannot/will not take back those that they have allowed through who are heading north.”

That said, Professor Wilsher points out that “Northern countries will not absorb everyone who arrives. The borders are being re-erected because of a failure to agree on ‘burden-sharing’ which was never built into the original asylum policy. When asylum numbers fell after 2004-5 it was not seen as urgent to create such a system. It is now”.

Human rights laws

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, like civil and political rights, the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and speech/expression, equality before the law, social, cultural and economic rights, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education. In short, human rights are freedoms established by custom or international agreement that protect the interests of humans and the conduct of governments in every nation. Human rights are distinct from civil liberties, which are freedoms established by the law of a particular state and applied by that state in its own jurisdiction. Human rights laws have been defined by international conventions, by treaties, and by organizations, particularly the United Nations. These laws prohibit practices such as torture, slavery, summary execution without trial, and arbitrary detention or exile.

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