Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Spain causing concern on EU migrant relocation

  • Almost 60% of all arrivals in Greece from January to June this year were from either Syria or Eritrea (Photo: iom.int)

Ministers are still waiting for Spain to pledge how many asylum seekers it will relocate, after months of wrangling.

The delay is causing concern, as member states want to divvy up relocation numbers when they meet in Brussels on Monday (20 July).

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Ministers already discussed the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg earlier this month and Germany and France have announced they’d take in several thousand each.

But an EU source told this website Spain still hasn’t put numbers on the table.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s opt-out clause on justice issues means it won’t be involved.

The UK and Ireland have “opt-in” rights, so it remains optional if they take part at all.

The uncertainties mean there’s still no guarantee the 40,000 asylum-seeker total will be reached, a second EU source said.

Billed as an emergency response by the European Commission in May, the plan to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over a two-year period has generated heated debate.

Calls for solidarity have hinged on making the deal mandatory or voluntary.

The commission says forcing member states to take a pre-set number of asylum seekers is needed. EU leaders disagree.

Instead, they opted, in June, for a voluntary scheme, but two weeks later failed to agree on figures at the Luxembourg ministerial.

Next Monday’s meeting in Brussels is another attempt to nail those figures.

The ministers also plan to designate the Western Balkans as safe countries of origin.

Member states will then put the relocation matter to a vote in September, following the European Parliament's first plenary session after the summer break.

The drawn-out talks have given rise to criticism from some MEPs and from the United Nations.

Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative on international migration, told EUobsever that Europe’s problems wouldn’t be solved through token gestures.

“This isn’t enough. We have got a permanent ongoing problem. So Europe now has to design a new Mediterranean policy”, he said.

He suggested setting up reception and adjudication centres in Khartoum and Cairo.

“Why should people have to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean to then being put in a camp for a prolonged process to establish whether or not they are refugees?”, he said.

MEPs in the civil liberties group, for their part, on Thursday (16 July) urged a return to the commission’s binding scheme.

“While member states are muddling through and cannot agree on how to distribute 40,000 refugees, our committee has supported a binding distribution key by a large majority”, said German Green Ska Keller.

Western Balkans

Syrians, Eritreans and now Iraqis, according to an EU official, are set to benefit because of their high asylum application acceptance rates.

Tens of thousands have reached Italy and Greece this year, but numbers are now increasing for those attempting to reach northern Europe through the Western Balkans.

Over 60,0000 people between January and June this year took the Western Balkan route. Many enter through Greece and head towards Hungary, which is now building a 175-km razor fence along its border with Serbia.

Hungary’s ambassador to the EU Peter Gyorkos told reporters in June many of the arrivals at the start of the year had come from Kosovo.

The plan now is to set up a EU list of safe countries of origin where failed asylum applicants can be quickly returned.

Safe countries

For the time being, there is no possibility under EU law to adopt a binding common list of “safe countries of origin” at EU level.

But the commission wants to amend the EU law to allow for a centralised list.

Interior ministers on Monday will designate Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia for such a list.

“The EU-wide average asylum recognition rate for the Western Balkan countries was only 4 percent in 2014. This suggests that the Western Balkans countries could be considered as safe countries of origin by all the member states”, note draft conclusions seen by this website.

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