Friday

19th Jan 2018

France and Germany to take bulk of 120,000 migrants

  • Hungarian police guard migrants shortly after they crossed from Serbia (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

France and Germany will take the bulk of 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece, Italy, and Hungary, according to a European Commission proposal due out on Wednesday (9 September).

The draft paper, seen by EUobserver, represents Europe’s latest attempt to deal with its largest refugee crisis since WWII.

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It comes on top of an earlier project, covering 40,000 people from Greece and Italy, bringing the total number of relocations to 160,000.

The new proposal says member states should take the 120,000 people from the three frontline countries, which have seen a huge increase in arrivals, mostly from war-torn Syria and from Afghanistan.

The relocations would see 15,600 people moved from Italy, 50,400 from Greece, and 54,000 from Hungary.

Germany and France, the main supporters of the quota scheme, would take in 31,443 and 24,031 people, respectively.

Denmark, Ireland, and the UK are not included in the list, as they don’t take part in EU home and justice affairs policies.

But the proposal adds that other, reluctant member states should help pay for the project if they opt out.

It says EU countries which give “duly justified reasons” why they are temporarily unable to take part in the relocations, for a period of one year, "should instead make a financial contribution to the EU budget".

The percentage of GDP to be paid is not yet specified.

Spain is slated to take 14,931 asylum-seekers, while Poland is to house 9,287 people - also a significant share.

Poland, along with other eastern European countries, has been a vocal opponent of the scheme, saying it creates a pull factor for migrants.

The Czechs are expected to take 2,978, Slovakia to take 1,502, and Romania is down for 4,646.

The Baltic States, which have also been reluctant to participate, are to take in a few hundred people each, according to the proposal. Estonia is to house 373, Latvia 526, and Lithuania to take in 780.

Austria is to take in 3,640, Belgium 4,564, and Croatia 1,064.

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s home country, Luxemburg, is to take 440 people.

Balkan route

The proposal notes the flow of migrants and refugees has more than doubled over the summer and says the EU needs a new emergency relocation mechanism.

But it adds that the current measures should be provisional, and should apply for just 24 months after they enter into force.

According to the commission, the Western Balkan route, where Hungary lies, accounts for more than 30 percent of the total irregular border crossings in 2015.

Hungary has been critical of an EU quota system, and says it does not want to be labelled as a frontline country.

It says it would not have become one if Greece, the first point of EU entry for Western Balkan-route migrants, had done its job by protecting the passport-free Schengen zone and by registering the migrants it received.

However, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban said last week in Brussels he does not rule out participating in the EU programme.

“We haven’t got any offer like that [yet], if we get it we’ll think about it”, he said.

Financial help and benchmarks

The commission’s new proposal also includes financial help for the relocations.

Host member states can receive €6,000 per asylum seeker, while Hungary, Italy, and Greece are to receive €500 per person to cover travel and other costs.

The distribution of asylum seekers is based on the size of the population, total GDP, the average number of asylum applications per 1 million inhabitants between 2012 and 2014, and the host state’s unemployment rate.

Safe countries

The new proposal also says all EU candidate or potential candidate countries - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey - should be deemed safe countries.

This means asylum seekers can be sent back if they come through any of the states on the list.

The commission documents include a list of ideas on how to enhance repatriation, as it says only 40 percent of the irregular migrants who were ordered to leave the EU in 2014 actually departed.

The commission is to launch a Trust Fund that should provide resources for return and reintegration of unsuccessful asylum seekers, but it doesn’t say how much the fund is to be worth.

It states that returns must be enforced, if migrants don’t go back voluntarily. It also says member states should use detention as a legitimate measure of last resort.

The proposal will be outlined by Juncker on Wednesday in his State of the Union address in the European Parliament in Strasbourg and will be first discussed by EU interior and justice ministers on 14 September.

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French president Macron wants the UK to take in more refugees as he revisits the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border controls to take place inside French territory.

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The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

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