Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

EU leaders skirt asylum rules debate

Almost two years have gone by since EU heads of state first declared their “determination to reduce the risk of further tragedies” following the drowning deaths of over 300 migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The European commission had spoken of opening legal migration routes, providing humanitarian visas, and even paying member states €6,000 a head for each resettled refugee.

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  • EU leaders at the summit in December 2013 declared their determination to reduce the risk of further tragedies (Photo: wikipedia)

With the exception of humanitarian visas, none of those ideas ever saw the light of day and won't be discussed at Thursday’s EU summit (23 April) where EU leaders are gathering after another drowning disaster which left 900 dead over the weeked.

Instead, one senior diplomat has already described the summit as “a political demonstration event”.

Now, on the side, the commission is discussing plans to revise the rules on who processes asylum applications under the so-called Dublin regulation.

“As far as Dublin is concerned, there are certain points on the agreement that must be revised,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in Luxembourg earlier this week.

Setting up legal migration routes and reforming the Dublin regulation are toxic subjects for most member states.

It took negotiators around five years to reach an agreement on the 2008 proposal when the commission proposed to revise the rules. The latest iteration, known as Dublin III, came into force in July 2013.

Frontline countries that receive most of the migrants disembarking from Libya - such as Malta and Italy - want the Dublin rules revised again but others (Germany and the UK) are against

Italy and Malta don’t like the rules because they are required – as countries of first points of entry – to handle the applications.

Meanwhile, people fleeing civil war in Syria have few options but to risk their lives to seek asylum in the EU. Around 32 percent (69,000) of the sea arrivals in the EU in 2014 came from Syria alone.

German Green MEP Ska Keller said Syrians that make it to Europe must obtain asylum.

“So why do we ask them first to cross the Mediterranean?” she said.

One solution may be a visa-waiver programme for Syrians but that option won’t be discussed either at the summit.

European parliament president Martin Schulz said member states need to come to an agreement among themselves to reach a quota system on how to divide up the refugees. Some 90 percent of refugees end up in a handful of member states.

If a migrant makes the journey across the Mediterranean, then the first country of entry – under the Dublin rules - is responsible for their asylum application process.

But that too is a mess because conditions in member states differ widely.

Police in Italy are known to let some migrants continue onto the rest of Europe, skipping the whole application process to begin with.

Another problem is that people recognised as refugees cannot move for up to five years, limiting their opportunities that may present themselves elsewhere in the EU.

“Refugees are not necessarily placed where their rights are respected and they are not in places where they might have more chances to rebuild their lives,” said Ana Fontal at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

Some small steps are being taken to revise the rules.

EU lawmakers are now proposing an amendment to Dublin that would allow minors to apply for asylum in any EU member state they choose - effectively allowing them go where relatives are already settled.

The European parliament had already wanted to introduce the idea into the asylum package when it was reformed years ago but backed off after member states threatened to derail the legislation.

Lawmakers in the civil liberties committee are now pushing for it again after the European Court of Justice in 2013 ruled that unaccompanied minors can apply for asylum in the member state that best suits their needs.

The plan is for it to go to vote in May.

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