This Thursday, the European Parliament will vote on a proposal to introduce a standardised European travel document for the return of third-country nationals who are currently staying within the European Union illegally. It is a welcome initiative that is being proposed in light of the stark reality that Member States are faced with - struggling to return the majority of migrants residing illegally to their home countries. In fact, in 2014, less than 40% of the total number of return decisions issued by Member States were enforced and the EU urgently requires an efficient system for repatriation in such cases.
The EU cannot maintain a totally open door policy
While the EU should fully respect international norms guaranteeing the rights of refugees, it cannot maintain an open door policy to anyone and everyone wishing to reside in the EU. It must distinguish between different types of migrants. The return of those who cannot stay must become a priority for the Union, which is currently facing overstretched resources in processing migrants, especially in the frontline states.
Between January and March 2015 alone, around 23,000 Tunisians – the majority economic migrants aspiring to find employment in France – arrived on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. In the same year, Member States reported some 700,000 detections of migrants staying illegally, the highest number of which were facilitated in Spain, followed by France and Italy.
We need EU-wide harmonised return document standards
A major obstacle impeding the EU’s ability to return third-country nationals here illegally is the fact that their home countries are reluctant to accept return papers because they are poor-quality documents. The proposal the European Parliament is voting on represents an unprecedented effort to harmonise return travel documents for migrants who do not have permission or reason to stay within the EU and to enforce return decisions.
Currently, return documents are being issued in the absence of a set of harmonised standards. They lack adequate security standards and common features including safeguards against counterfeiting and falsification. Presently, they are issued in various languages and with varying information.
The new European travel document will clearly state the returnee's personal details, the issuing authority and the date of issue. It will also feature a standardised passport photo. The reasons for return will be clearly stated in an official language of the EU. They will also be translated into English and French and, where possible, into the language of the third country involved. The returnee will be provided with the full reasons for their repatriation.
Improving cooperation on return and readmission with third countries for smoother repatriation
Improving cooperation on return and readmission with the main countries of origin and on transit of third-country nationals is absolutely essential to increase the rate of return and to ease the stress that economic migrants are currently exerting on the EU’s border management systems. The readmission of own nationals is obligatory under international law, with which all states must comply.
This return document should help with reducing the administrative and bureaucratic burden on Member-State and third-country administrations. It should also reduce the length of the procedures necessary to ensure the return and readmission of economic migrants residing in the European Union illegally. This will hasten and streamline their repatriation and begin to reverse a trend of increasing numbers of economic migrants arriving in the EU.