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After a decade of wrangling the EU has a new set of rules on migration and asylum

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The European Parliament has passed a new package of laws that could fundamentally change the European Union's migration and asylum policies.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This news is relevant at a time when the United States is receiving many asylum-seekers and has been debating ways to make it harder for some people to enter and stay. Europe's asylum crisis made news many years ago, and it's taken all this time for leaders to respond. Lawmakers on both the far right and far left oppose the resulting legislation, along with human rights organizations.

MARTIN: Reporter Teri Schultz is in Brussels and is with us now for more. Teri, good morning.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So EU legislators are calling this new migration and asylum pact historic. Tell us what's going to change.

SCHULTZ: So it aims to make it harder for people to come to Europe and stay here if they don't have a valid reason to seek asylum, such as fear of persecution in their homelands. The laws say people will have their claims processed faster on the borders and that they'll be deported faster if it's determined that they're just seeking a better economic situation, for example. Now, supporters say that will free up resources for those who deserve international protection. It also aims to better share the responsibility for those who arrive - which is, as we've seen, disproportionately felt in those countries along Europe's southern edge, like Greece, Italy and Spain - because it would compel other countries to either take in some of those who are allowed to stay or pay the equivalent of about $20,000 per asylum-seeker.

MARTIN: So take us back, if you would. We mentioned that this was a long time coming. Remind us of why these changes were seen as necessary.

SCHULTZ: The EU's been grappling with these pressures for decades, but it really peaked in 2015, with more than 1.3 million people arriving in the bloc, hoping to be granted asylum, and they've been working on this since then. They believe that this package that has just been passed will ease the burden on those front-line states but stay within international law and moral considerations. Here's European Parliament President Roberta Metsola speaking after the package was approved Wednesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERTA METSOLA: We promised a new system that is fair with those eligible for protection, that is firm with those who are not, and that is strong against the traffickers and the networks preying on the most vulnerable of people. Tonight we have delivered on that promise.

SCHULTZ: You can hear the relief in her voice, as it was very narrowly approved by lawmakers.

MARTIN: Why so? You were telling us that it was actually really touch-and-go at the end. Why so?

SCHULTZ: That's because there were very emotional arguments on all sides, and just before the vote, there was a protest inside the parliament from human rights activists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) This pact kills. Vote no.

SCHULTZ: So if you can't quite understand them, they're saying, this pact kills, vote no, trying to influence lawmakers right up to the end.

MARTIN: What about the EU lawmakers who voted no?

SCHULTZ: Some on the far right opposed it, saying their countries will not be pushed into accepting more migrants and asylum-seekers no matter what, and some on the far left said it still doesn't provide enough protection for people who need it, nor take enough of the burden off those front-line states. That's the view of Malin Bjork, a Swedish parliamentarian from the left.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MALIN BJORK: Even in the future, the member states of arrival will be the ones that are responsible. We cannot have a situation where people systematically, and in thousands, die on the way, seeking protection and refuge in Europe. This doesn't do anything about that.

SCHULTZ: Groups like Amnesty International and Oxfam are very critical, saying the new laws, which include building more detention centers, will lead to greater human suffering.

MARTIN: So when are we likely to see these new laws go into effect? Any chance this package can still be blocked?

SCHULTZ: It's likely to move pretty quickly because we've got elections coming up in the European Parliament and in EU national governments. And the far right uses this issue to great effect, and so I think a lot of politicians will be wanting to show that they've made progress on it and that they're going to make a difference for their citizens.

MARTIN: All right. That is Teri Schultz reporting from Brussels. Teri, thank you.

SCHULTZ: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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