Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU diplomats tweak text on migrant relocations

  • Ministers' talks could drag into EU migration summit Wednesday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Hungary's unused refugee relief quota can go to other states, while relocation refuseniks won't pay fines, according to the latest EU compromise on the migrant crisis.

EU ambassadors agreed the new ideas on Monday (21 September), EU sources said.

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  • People rescued by EU naval operation in Mediterranean Sea (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

But diplomats are meeting again on Tuesday morning to tweak the text of an EU Council decision on sharing refugees.

The talks come ahead of an EU interior ministers' meeting later in the day.

If ministers fail to overcome objections by the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, then France, Germany and their allies might outvote them.

They might also continue negotiating at an EU migration summit on Wednesday.

Monday's compromise said EU states will relocate 120,000 more refugees.

The figure includes 50,400 from Greece and 15,600 from Italy.

The number earlier allotted to Hungary - 54,000 - will be relocated from any other EU country which appeals for help.

"This amount can now be distributed from any EU member state that requests solidarity. For instance, if Germany were to ask, they could get others to relocate Syrian people from the hills of Bavaria to, for instance, Estonia", an EU contact noted.

The relocations are to take place over the next two years.

The period can be extended by another year, but the extension can only apply to 30 percent of the relocation numbers.

Monday's compromise also dropped the idea of making states which don't take their full allotted quota pay a fine of €6,500 per person.

The sanctions proposal was "an embrassment to the EU", the contact said.

The Hungary decision comes after it declined to be put on par with Greece and Italy as a "frontline" state.

It said people coming to Hungary first enter the EU in Greece, which is breaking EU rules - the so-called Dublin laws - by not registering them and by not controlling its borders.

Lex specialis

The draft EU Council decision, a 39-page document seen by EUobserver, was put together over the weekend.

It calls itself a "lex specialis to the Dublin regulation".

The term refers to a law on a specific issue which overrides general legislation, in this case Dublin, but which means other parts of Dublin stay in force.

The draft lists the numbers which EU countries are obliged to take from Italy and Greece, based on factors such as population size and wealth.

Germany (17,036) and France (12,962) are to take the most.

Spain (8,023), Poland (5,082), the Netherlands (3,900), Romania (2,475), Belgium (2,448), Sweden (2,397), Austria (1,953), Portugal (1,642), and the Czech Republic (1,591) are also to take large numbers.

Hungary, instead of moving out 54,000 people, is to take in 1,294.

Denmark and the UK aren't taking part because they have long-standing opt-outs from EU immigration policy.

Ireland also had an opt-out option. But it decided to join the scheme and take 1,850 refugees.

Hungary

The draft says if an EU state gives "duly justified reasons" that "it is confronted with a similar emergency situation" as Greece or Italy, it can ask to take a part of Hungary's old share.

If the European Commission and other EU states agree, the refugees will be shared, via an "implementing decision", based on the same population/wealth key.

If Hungary's old share isn't used up within 18 months, then Greece and Italy can use whatever's left.

On the other hand, EU states can ask to be exempted from the relocation scheme.

They do so by claiming "exceptional circumstances" and "giving duly justified reasons compatible with the fundamental values of the [European] Union".

They have two options.

They can cut their quota by 30 percent, with other EU states taking the extra burden. Or they can get full exemption for six months, which can be extended if the "exceptional circumstances" persist.

But in either case, the Commission and fellow EU states must agree.

National security

Host states can also refuse to take individual refugees "where there are reasonable grounds for regarding him or her as a danger to their national security or public order".

The system is to work by creating new "reception facilities" in Greece and Italy, with EU support, to register and fingerprint all migrants.

The people eligible for relocation are to come from countries, such as Syria, which normally have a 75 percent or higher rate of positive asylum decisions.

With many refugees trying to evade Greek authorities and go directly to Germany, the draft Council decision says "[asylum] applicants that elude the relocation procedure shall be excluded from relocation".

It notes that people who are relocated to, say, Estonia, but who then go to, say, Germany "shall be required to return immediately".

It adds that if Greece or Italy fail to properly fingerprint people and process their asylum claim, the Commission "may decide … to suspend the application of this decision with regard to that member state for a period of up to three months".

Refugee rights

The draft decision contains humanitarian provisions.

It says EU states "shall ensure" that families are relocated together and that "the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration".

It says Greece and Italy must give people written notification, in their native language, of where they're being sent.

It also says, in its preamble, that, while refugees can’t choose where they’re to go, they have the right to "appeal" a relocation decision under Greek or Italian law.

Christians only, please

The preamble says EU host states must "respect for the principle of nondiscrimination" when taking people in.

But, in a nod to countries such as Cyprus and Slovakia, who’ve said they prefer Christian rather than Muslim refugees, it adds that EU countries "may indicate their preferences for applicants" based on "family, cultural, or social ties which could facilitate their integration".

The text voices concern on "secondary movements" - relocated migrants who refuse to stay in their host states.

It urges capitals to tell people they’re only entitled to welfare in their allotted country.

It also says they "should neither provide applicants with national travel documents, nor give them other incentives, such as financial ones, which could facilitate their irregular movements".

More to come?

The draft text warns that “due to the ongoing instability and conflicts in the immediate neighbourhood" of the EU "it is very likely that a significant and increased pressure will continue to be put on … migration and asylum systems".

It adds that: "The Commission will submit, as appropriate, proposals to amend this decision in order to take into account the evolving pressure".

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