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16th Jun 2019

Italy to relocate asylum seekers 'in coming days'

The relocation of asylum seekers from Sicily in Italy to other member states could start before the end of the week.

“Hopefully the plan is to start with the relocation process in the coming days”, a spokesperson from the European support asylum office (EASO) told this website on Wednesday (30 September).

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The Malta-based agency says the receiving member states have already been identified but would not disclose which because the process “is ongoing.”

The EU plan is to relocate up to 160,000 asylum seekers in other member states over the next two years. A €6,000 lump sum will be given for each refugee taken in but payment will not be made until next year.

The scheme applies mostly to Syrians and others that have a high chance of obtaining asylum. But first they must be screened, registered, and fingerprinted.

EU heads of state at a summit last week in Brussels gave themselves an end November deadline to have so-called 'hotspots' up and running in Italy and Greece.

The hotspots separate legitimate asylum seekers from those not entitled to international protection. This also includes identification and fingerprinting.

Four are planned in Italy and another five in Greece. An EU Commission official said relocation would start after they are set up.

EU Commission experts say the hotspots basically translate to additional manpower, to help frontline member states with capacity problems.

EASO, for its part, says it has still not signed operational plans with Italy but will start relocation anyway. The agency wants to send an additional 45 experts to Italy and 28 to Greece.

The extra experts will be grouped with others from the EU’s border agency Frontex and the EU police agency Europol as part of the larger hotspot teams.

EASO already has people on the ground on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily.

“We already have people here. We have people in Lampedusa, we have people in Agrigento, Villa Sikania where they are also assisting with the registration of asylum seekers”, said the spokesperson.

In Italy, the main hotspot office is in Catania. The office is shared with other EU agencies, Italian authorities, and people from the EU’s naval campaign against smugglers.

According to the European Commission, the first reception centres have also been set up in Pozzallo, Porto Empedocle, and Trapani in Sicily and in Lampedusa.

The centres can accommodate a total of 1,500 people. Some 131,000 people arrived in Italy by sea this year.

Around a quarter are from Eritrea followed by Nigerians and half a dozen other sub-Saharan African nationalities.

Two other first reception centres are planned for Augusta and Taranto by the end of the year.

In Greece, the list of tasks needed is longer compared to Italy.

Greece still needs to set up an HQ like the one in Catania. The plan is to have one in Piraeus, a large sea port in Attica.

The European commission has also given Greece €4.1 million to set up reception centres on the islands.

But Kos, where most of the thousands of daily arrivals from Turkey first land, still does not have one.

The Commission on Wednesday (30 September) unveiled a proposal of amendment to the 2015 budget to help the affected member states cope with the refugee crisis.  

The €801.3 million for 2015 will be partially funded by new funding. A total of €330.7 million comes from additional commitments from member states, €70.6 million comes from other budgetary programs. €400 million is money originally provided for reserves and emergencies that will now be used to tackle the refugee crisis.

To boost the hotspots in Italy and Greece, €1.3 million is set aside to increase the funding for the three relevant EU agencies to cover 60 staff for Frontex, 30 for the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and 30 for Europol for 2015.

A second set of proposals for the remaining €900 million for 2016 will be included in an amendment to the draft 2016 budget in October 2015.

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