Monday

18th Feb 2019

EU refugee relocation grinds to near halt

  • Thousands continue to arrive on a daily basis on the Greek island of Lesbos (Photo: Brainbitch)

The slow pace of registering and relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other member states is frustrating EU-led efforts to get a grip on broader migration issues.

Launched in September, the two-year plan to relocate 160,000 people in need of international protection remains mired in administrative, technical, and political delays.

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The relocation figure is dwarfed by the number of people asking for asylum in Europe. Greece alone saw 758,000 arrive so far this year.

As of Monday (7 December), only 30 have been relocated from Greece and another 130 from Italy.

Member states appear reluctant to announce any more pledges, while others are taking weeks to confirm matches. The Visegrad states - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - remain opposed.

The task is further complicated by the lack of so-called hotspots, where EU teams are supposed to be deployed to help register arrivals.

One computer

Out of the five announced in Greece only the one in Lesbos has been declared operational. The zones are supposed to help sort and identify arrivals and determine who is eligible for protection.

In September, police in the port had only one computer to register thousands of people. A month later in October, some 135,000 arrived on the island, more than anywhere else.

Despite bad weather and the EU's €3 billion deal with Turkey, up to 3,500 continue to arrive daily on rubber boats from Turkey, with some Syrian refugees being intercepted at sea and set adrift by men in black masks. Turkey intercepted 3,000 people over a matter of days last week.

Plans are now being discussed to resettle UN-recognised refugees from Turkey to member states.

Details are to be proposed when the European Commission presents its plan to set up a European border and coast guard on 15 December. The scheme has already been endorsed by France and Germany after the two sent a letter of support to EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Meanwhile, backlogs on Lesbos are fuelling tension between refugees, police, and locals.

The Malta-based European Support Asylum Office (EASO) has seven people working on the island to help inform people of their rights. But the lack of experts, such as special interpreters, issues with red tape, limited accommodation, and lack of finger printing machines continue to pose problems.

One senior EU official said fewer people who are not entitled to protection are being returned.

"There has been a clear dip in returns,” Marteen Verwey told MEPs in the civil liberties committee. No other member state, aside from Italy, organised a single return flight in November.

On the frontline

Last week, the EU's border agency Frontex and EU police agency Europol signed a data sharing agreement in their efforts to crack down on migrant smuggling. The illicit business from Turkey to the EU is said to be worth billions.

Greek authorities, for their part, are planning to start work this week on getting the remaining hotspots up and running amid threats that Greece would be booted out of the passport-free Schengen travel zone.

"We are on the frontline and therefore we cannot have a good system asylum and relocation unless we realise that the gate to Europe isn't Greece, the real gateway here is Turkey and that is something that has to be settled,” said Anthi Karangeli, the Greek authorities' hotspot coordinator.

The European Commission, for its part, also wants Turkey to tighten its visa regime to prevent people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh entering the country.

The relocation situation isn't much better in Italy, where Lampedusa is the only functional hotspot out of six announced.

EU urges countries to speed up migrant relocation

Out of the promised 160,000, EU countries have so far took in 1,145 refugees from Greece and Italy, as the EU commission warns of humaniatian crisis in Greece and the deterioration of the situation in Italy.

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