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EU countries to take in 40,000 asylum seekers in migration quota proposal

Thursday, 28 May 2015

European Union countries are to take in 40,000 asylum seekers who flee to Italy and Greece, under proposals from the EU executive in Brussels. It is seen as the first step in a plan to introduce new immigration quotas across the union.

The European commission’s radical blueprint for quotas has run into a wall of resistance in national capitals since it was announced this month in response to the mass drownings of migrants in the Mediterranean.

The call on Wednesday for 24,000 refugees who arrive in Italy to be relocated to other countries and 16,000 from Greece will also face stiff opposition. In order to try to make the sharing of refugees more palatable for member states, the proposal is laced with caveats.

The scheme would apply only to migrants who have arrived in Italy and Greece since last month; who have a chance of obtaining asylum, ruling out economic and other “irregular” migrants; and who are of a nationality with at least a 75% success rate in asylum claims, meaning probably only Syrians and Eritreans.

“It’s clearly a beginning, a first step,” William Lacy Swing, the head of the International Organisation for Migration, told the Guardian. “There’s a lot of interest in a comprehensive policy.”

He described immigration as a toxic issue in European politics. “Our migration policies have not kept pace with migration realities,” he said. “This is not something that gets you elected or re-elected.”

France, Spain and the countries of central and eastern Europe have been bitterly critical of the quota plans. In April interior ministers from the 28 countries agreed that any sharing of refugees should be voluntary, but the commission plans would make the redistribution mandatory.

Germany, Sweden, and Austria, which together take in the lion’s share of refugees in Europe along with Italy and Greece, are in favour of the plan. According to EU figures, 220,000 irregular migrants reached Italy and Greece last year, and the numbers have surpassed that this year. Of the total, around 40% were Syrians and Eritreans fleeing war and oppression with very good chances of lodging successful asylum claims in the EU.

Britain is not set to take any of the 40,000 as it is exempted from EU asylum policy unless it wants to take part.

“It’s up to the United Kingdom to decide what to do,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner for migration issues who announced the scheme. “It is up to Great Britain to decide and choose. Europe is here.”

A British government spokesperson said: “We do not oppose resettlement in principle, but we believe such schemes are best decided at national level and have no plans to contribute to an EU quota.”

Denmark also has an opt-out and will not take part. On Wednesday the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, called a general election for next month. Immigration will play a prominent role in the campaign and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s party is riding high in the opinion polls.

Ireland, which also does not need to take part in EU asylum policy, has said it will take some of the refugees.

Avramopoulos announced that the EU would push ahead with plans to process asylum seekers extraterritorially before they can arrive in Europe and lodge a claim. Brussels is to establish an office for examining asylum applications in Niger, west Africa, as an experiment, he said. If the operation goes well, similar offices could be set up in several countries across North Africa and the Middle East.

Under Wednesday’s proposals, the asylum seekers being relocated would need to lodge their claims in the countries they are sent to from Italy and Greece. The new host countries would be paid €6,000 per refugee by Brussels. The 40,000 total covers a two-year period.

Avramopoulos conceded that the plan would run into opposition from national governments. The figure of 40,000 was decided as the minimum needed to help Italy and Greece but also because it was the maximum figure acceptable to EU governments.

If the plan is implemented, it is not clear where the refugees would end up since once relocated to, say, France, an immigrant would be able to use Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone to move, for example, to Germany.

In addition to the mooted 40,000, the commission is also proposing that the EU countries share a further 20,000 asylum seekers who have not yet come to Europe. It argues that Britain should take part in this latter project.

Wednesday’s proposals are aimed at relieving the immediate pressure on Italy and Greece. By the end of the year the commission is to come up with more ambitious plans for longer-term distribution of migrants.

While the plans will enjoy much support in the European parliament, it will be an uphill battle to get the scheme endorsed by national governments in the European Council.

Source: The Guardian

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