On 10th February 2017, the Representation of the EU Commission in Belgium hosted the Annual Conference on Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in the EU organised by the Odysseus Network, an initiative running since 1999 with the aim to share knowledge and experiences between expert academics, practitioners and NGOs working on EU Asylum and migration issues and discuss the developments occurring in this field.

In this year’s event, the Conference addressed the legal and humanitarian implications of the unfolding refugee crisis affecting the EU, read in the light of the recent legal and policy developments put forward by the EU and its member states, as a result of the adoption of the 2015 Migration Agenda, and the EU future strategy in matters of protection and integration.

The AIRE Centre Legal Project Manager, Ms. Markella Papadouli, and four AIRE caseworkers attended the event ( Ms. Adriana Tidona, Ms. Ralitsa Peykova, Ms. Kalliopi Paschalidou, Mr. Sam Mottahedan). The AIRE Centre delegation was joined by former AIRE caseworker, currently working for HIAS in Lesvos, Ms. Danai Papachristopoulou.

The morning plenary session was introduced by Prof. Prof Philippe de Bruycker, Coordinator of the Odysseus Academic Network, with welcome speeches made by Prof Anne Weyembergh, President of the Institute for European Studies and Mr. Jimmy Jamar, Head of the European Commission Representation in Belgium.

A compelling opening debate followed on the existing contentions and dilemmas around the operation of EU asylum policies, presenting differing views on the strategy pursued by the EU in the area of asylum, the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal and the way forward.

In particular, Mr Simon Mordue, Deputy Director-General, DG Home, European Commission, argued that overall the EU-Turkey statement has delivered results, as the continent saw a decrease in the attempts to cross the Aegean, and emphasised the need to boost EU integration policies, in relation to which the developing reform of the blue card will play an important role. Prof Thomas Spijkerboer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, however, questioned the merits and validity of the EU-Turkey deal, drawing attention to the effects of the closure of the Balkan route.

After the opening session, the participants to the Conference split into 3 streams of expert workshops focussing on the macro areas of Cooperation between Member States, Protection of persons and Management of Migratory Flows in the context of EU asylum processes.

Among the themes explored in the ‘protection’ stream, special attention was devoted to the soundness of the 2016 proposal to reform the Common European Asylum System - introducing a third generation of asylum rules - and on judicial cooperation in return and asylum detention policies at the Member States and EU level. On the latter issue, the AIRE Centre Legal Project Manager Markella Papadouli raised the issue of improvement of cooperation between the domestic and European judiciary on one hand and the civil society on the other.

The ‘cooperation’ and ‘management’ streams, conversely, adopted a more operational angle to the issue, discussing integration policies, the prospective establishement of a EU Border and Coast Guard and of a EU database, as well as the effects of the Hotspot approach and the inadequate achievements of the european relocation plans.

The workshops and plenary sessions saw the participation of representatives from EU institutions, as well as distinguished international experts from NGOs and leading academics. Indeed, some remarkable contributions were made – among others – by Prof Elina Pirjatanniemi, Åbo Akademi University, Dr Madalina Moraru, European University Institute, Prof Steve Peers, University of Essex and Prof Francesco Maiani, University of Lausanne, Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax, Queen Mary, University of London.

A keen audience of around 700 participants – including a majority of academics and civil society experts – contributed to the diversity and richness of the debate.  

Find out more about the Odysseus Network initiatives here.