On 20 May, the president of the European Economic and Social Committee, Luca Jahier, hosted a webinar entitled Migration in times of COVID-19, the unforgotten tragedy, waiting for the new EU Pact.

The webinar gave the floor to distinguished speakers such as the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi, MEP and Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Juan Fernando López Aguilar and Secretary-General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Catherine Woollard.

The panellists discussed the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on migration and asylum-seeking in the EU and debated if the EU, at last, could find an efficient way to manage migration and forge a new sense of solidarity in this area.

The issue of solidarity between the countries receiving migrants and the distribution of asylum-seekers arriving on European soil has been unresolved since long before the pandemic, and is due to come under renewed focus once the EU countries lift border and travel restrictions as thousands of migrants have been stuck in transit.

"The word solidarity has found a new meaning in the unprecedented decisions taken by the European Commission and the Member States' response to the COVID-19 crisis. The new pact on migration and asylum must propose the same level of solidarity between the Member States and with third countries, for the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees," Mr Jahier said.

The new European pact on migration and asylum was planned for March 2020, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

Mr Mitarachi said it was critical for Europe to have legal migration and "not the random one we are currently seeing. We should have a tougher stance on return policy for those who don't qualify for refugee status, and this should be a key point in the new pact on migration. Frontline states don't have the capacity to cope with migration flows."

Ms Woollard warned against the flexible solidarity model that sees solidarity as a toolbox allowing Member States to choose how and when to show it: "Solidarity is an obligation within the European treaties that all Member States have signed, it is not something optional."

Mr López Aguilar said, "We have many reasons to be concerned about the situation and we have every reason to be demanding of the Commission. There should be some EU authority to enforce solidarity and to make sure that some countries are not left alone." (ll/ks)