Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU states fall short on asylum targets

  • Avramopoulos: 'This shows that a voluntary scheme is difficult to implement and whenever it was tried before, it has failed' (Photo: European council)

Interior ministers in Brussels on Monday (20 July) fell short of a European Commission-proposed target to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy over the next two years.

Instead they agreed to relocate 32,356 with Austria and Hungary refusing to take any asylum-seekers, despite the plan being billed by EU leaders last month as a demonstration of European solidarity.

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The original relocation proposal announced earlier this year by the European commission called for a binding distribution of 40,000 people to alleviate the asylum demand pressure on Greece and Italy, where most migrants first land after crossing the Mediterranean.

“I want to be frank with you. I am disappointed that this did not happen today but it was a very important step forward”, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after the meeting.

“This shows that a voluntary scheme is difficult to implement and whenever it was tried before, it has failed.”

The remaining eight thousand will be allocated by the end of the year, he said.

Most will be nationals with a 75-percent or greater asylum recognition rate like Eritreans, Syrians, and Iraqis.

Germany (10,500) and France (6,752) have offered to take the most.

Both the UK and Ireland have opt-in on justice and home affairs policies and don’t have to participate. But Ireland decided to take in 600 people anyway.

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

Spain offered to take 1,300, a difference of several thousand from the commission’s original proposal. Poland also baulked and agreed to 1,100, fewer than half of what the commission suggested.

“The Spaniards had some difficulties with the figures proposed by the Commission”, said a French diplomat.

A Polish diplomat told this website that Poland is not prepared to take in asylum seekers due to concerns about its troubled neighbour Ukraine.

He said Poles are afraid that around 1.2 million internally displaced Ukrainians will push across the border if a full-blown war breaks out with Russia.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn, for his part, said relocation could start in October, noting that some of the figures proposed “are slightly disappointing”.

Hungary says No to everything

Asselborn noted some are not pulling their weight on resettlement. Resettlement refers to taking in refugees from camps – mainly housing Syrians - in places like Turkey and Lebanon. Turkey is hosting around 1.8 million refugees.

But Hungary said No to refugees as well. Its right wing PM Viktor Orban earlier this year described the commission’s plan as "mad and unfair" and launched anti-immigrant campaigns, in part, to win votes from the far-right Jobbik party at home.

“We have to think about the image that gives to the outside world”, said Asselborn.

Ministers would have missed the 20,000 resettlement target too had non-EU member states not offered to help.

Non-EU member states Norway said it would take in 3,500 refugees, more than any other EU member state.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland also chipped in, pushing the total figure to 22,504.

Greece agreed to resettle around 350 and Italy almost 2,000.

The commission, for its part, will propose a bill before the end of year for a fixed emergency system “to address future emergencies” on asylum demands.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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