On 17 October 2020 tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris to demand “equality, simply equality”. Equality for those women, men and children who, in European jargon, are called “illegally-staying third-country nationals”, but who, in their open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, signed themselves “the participants of Act 3 of the Sans-Papiers”. Macron refused to receive them: this would have meant acknowledging their existence.
In France, as elsewhere in the European Union, undocumented migrants are seen as a number to be reduced (there are between 4 and 5 million of them across the EU), and as “irregular migrants” waiting to be expelled. Even if they have been living here for years or if they were born in a European country. If these people “have no right to stay” – this is the leitmotiv of the European Commission – then every effort must be made to remove them.
The Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented on 23 September, stiffens this attitude. Although the focus is on people arriving at the EU’s external borders, it contains several elements that are of concern to the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM). In a statement, this network of organisations criticises the proposal to extend the “compulsory screening” procedure to people already present on EU territory if “there is no evidence that they have crossed an external border with authorisation”, which would lead to an increase in checks on “persons and communities already confronted with discriminatory police practices”.
Another worrying element is the “fiction of non-entry”, a concept that originated in Germany and has found its way – thanks to lobbying from Berlin – into an EU text. The Pact specifies that during screening procedures and applications for international protection at the border, persons “shall not be allowed to enter the territory of a Member State”. For days, weeks, even months or years, a person can be physically on EU territory without having arrived “legally”. Recalling the history of this concept, originally applied to airport transit zones, researcher Kelly Soderstrom points out that decoupling physical from legal arrival makes borders extremely flexible. Similarly, other researchers note that hotspots have led to the “crucial severing of the link between terr…