Wednesday

26th Sep 2018

Military action underpins EU migration plan

  • The EU's border-control mission in Libya had to flee to Malta due to security problems (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

The European Commission on Wednesday (13 May) unveiled its long-awaited five-year plan on migration.

The proposal aims to tackle urgent issues and looks to the “root causes” of why people risk their lives to enter Europe.

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  • Mogherini said the military assaults will 'complement' the EU's search and rescue mission, Triton (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

With some 1,800 known to have died in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea since the start of the year, the EU has come under pressure to act.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in Brussels that “this is not about opening or closing borders because both are unrealistic.”

But the EU’s approach, announced jointly in Brussels by Avramopoulos, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, and EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini, appears to be a bit of both.

On the more closed side, separate moves are underway to launch a military assault against migrant traffickers in Libya.

Foreign and defence ministers, in Brussels on Monday will discuss a 19-page blueprint prepared by Mogherini’s staff and leaked to British daily The Guardian.

Search and destroy

It says the operation will “provide surveillance, intelligence gathering and sharing, and assessment of smuggling activity towards and through the southern central Mediterranean area, and to stop, board, search and dispose of, possibly through their destruction, trafficking vessels and assets before use and thereby contribute to EU efforts to disrupt the business model of trafficking networks”.

It speaks of “action along the coast, in harbour or at anchor [against] smugglers’ assets and vessels before their use”.

It notes that “a [military] presence ashore might be envisaged if agreement was reached with relevant authorities”. But it warns that “the terrorist presence in the region … constitutes a security threat. Action taken ashore could be undertaken in a hostile environment.”

The intention is to clinch internal agreement in time for EU leaders to launch the operation at the June summit.

But the operation will also require UN approval, with France and the UK drafting a resolution at the Security Council.

Asylum seekers

On the more open side, the commission wants to create binding quotas for distribution of asylum seekers to share the demand among member states.

Under the current system, the country where the asylum seeker enters the EU is responsible for them.

But the commission wants to trigger an emergency mechanism in the EU Treaty to relocate them in line with member states’ GDP, population size, unemployment levels, and the number of asylum seekers they already host.

It also wants to target people who have a high recognition rate for asylum, like Syrians and Eritreans, and to send more failed applicants back home.

An annex appended to the plan shows a model, should the proposal be accepted, where Germany would take the lion’s share on 18.42 percent, followed by France on 14.17 percent, and Italy on 11.84 percent.

Germany currently has 35 percent of all asylum seekers, compared to only 4 percent in the Netherlands.

“People in need who have already reached our shores will be distributed to other member states who will then take care of reception and asylum processing,” said Timmermans.

An EU official added that people’s personal needs will be taken into account: “We are not going to send someone with a husband in Sweden to Poland. So we’ll look at the family links before doing the relocation scheme.”

Meanwhile, the asylum seeker’s fingerprints would be entered into Eurodac, the EU's biometric common asylum registration system, to prevent them from moving around.

“If they move and are checked they will be transferred back to the [relocation] country,” added the EU source.

20,000 refugees

The commission will also recommend an EU-wide settlement scheme for 20,000 refugees by the end of the month.

The plan will cost some €50 million.

Each member state will take a set number of refugees according to the same quota model as on asylum.

If approved and if all member states participate - including the UK, Ireland, and Denmark, which can opt in or out - then Germany would take in the highest number of refugees at 3,086 or 15.43 percent of the total.

France would take in the second highest number with 2,375 refugees, followed by the United Kingdom on 2,309.

To put the figures into perspective, there are just under 4 million displaced people from Syria alone, mostly in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, while the US takes in 70,000 refugees a year.

UK

The UK’s home secretary Theresa May has already voiced objections to a mandatory system to distribute asylum seekers.

She also said economic migrants intercepted at sea should be pushed back.

Timmermans said returning migrants with no chance of asylum is essential but only once they have been processed first in the EU.

“It is a cornerstone of our plan, so in that sense I think Theresa May can rest assured,” he said.

Avramopoulos added the EU’s border agency Frontex will also be strengthened “so that migrants that have no right to stay on European soil will be repatriated”.

France opposes EU migrant quotas

France and Poland have joined a growing list of EU states opposed to the European Commission's migrant quota proposal.

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