30 Oct, 2018

Opinion: reformed Schengen: Helpful, but not enough

An opinion article by Hilde Vautmans MEP (Open Vld) about the reform of the Schengen Information System.

October 2018, after two years it has finally happened. The European Parliament approves three proposals to reform the Schengen Information System and to expand the usage of it.

After all setbacks in the area of migration, there is finally something to be cheerful about. The reform was urgently needed for various reasons, but it is also a part of a broader reform of the European Asylum and Migration Policy.

For starters, the changes will make the system of fingerprints and face recognition more efficient and the member states will be obligated to register all access prohibitions and expulsions of illegal third state nationals. But more importantly, it will also be possible to use DNA profiles to identify and track down missing children and to react faster and more efficient when a child goes missing.

This goes to show that a lot has happened since Europol reported about 10 000 missing child refugees in Europe. We have made some progress, but unfortunately children still die on rickety boats during the life threatening journey overseas. They still fall victim to abuse and violence at the hands of traffickers and smugglers. They still disappear without a trace.

Last week, Myria published its report which yet again sheds light to the horrible reality of minor victims of traffickers and smugglers. In 2017, around 20 000 unaccompanied children arrived in Europe and during their journey they fall prey to countless acts of exploitation; going from economic exploitation and crimes to sexual exploitation. What these children have to face is simply reprehensible.

The situation in Northern France hasn’t exactly improved either. Not so long ago, the non-profit organisation vzw Humain offered much needed help to 300 refugees – of which many minors – who struggle to survive in Dunkirk. The mud and rubble are still there and now the cold weather increases pressure on these people. Children try to make it through the day in forests on the cold, dirty ground without any means to protect themselves.

The reform of the Schengen Information System alone will not suffice. As I already mentioned in my book “Where are they?”, much more is needed. To protect these children, it remains essential that we register them and that we obtain their fingerprints and photos in the most child friendly way possible.

Besides that, it is also important to thoroughly inform these children of their rights, procedures and disposable services. This way you don’t just protect them, but you also put traffickers and smugglers out of business. Minors do not belong in a park, on the streets or in detention. Every child must have access to a child friendly environment, a guardian, medical aid, education, psychological support, pastime activities and integration.

Finally, a general and thorough reform of the European Asylum and Migration policy remains paramount. The procedures for asylum requests and family reunification have to become faster and the Dublin Accord – which defines which country is responsible for an asylum request – still needs to be reformed. The member states at the external EU border e.g. Italy and Greece still carry all the responsibility. But the fight against traffickers and smugglers needs to be scaled up as well. It’s completely unacceptable that these criminals are let off easy and that children pay the price day in, day out. A better protection of children has to be accompanied by a tougher approach to traffickers.

The Council conclusions of 18th October were inadequate, to say the least. Reducing illegal migration, brokering deals with African countries and strengthening our external borders is a good thing. But besides that, not much progress is being made of a substantial Asylum and Migration reform. After two years of slacking off, the Dublin regulation and the directive concerning reception conditions still haven’t changed and not much is being said of legal alternatives to Europe.

Migration is a reality and it is our duty to deal with it correctly. It is good we make progress with the Schengen Information System, but we need the same devotion for the general policy. Without this devotion, this era will soon become a black page in European history forever.

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