Thursday

13th May 2021

EU failing to deliver on migration plans

  • Fractions of policy promises have been put into place since last September (Photo: Michael Gubi)

Member states and EU institutions lag far behind on promises to better manage refugee flows, amid a growing public backlash.

By contrast to the slow pace of joint projects, EU countries have taken snap unilateral measures, including border lockdowns in the heart of the Schengen free-travel zone, and tighter asylum laws in places such as Denmark, Germany, and Sweden.

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With migrants increasingly stranded in Greece, the main point of entry to the EU, the European Commission has repeatedly voiced frustration.

Results need to be delivered in the coming "weeks and months”, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (13 January).

No spots

One leading concern is a lack of progress on “hotspots” in Greece and Italy, where people are meant to be first screened, identified, and registered.

The registration underpins a plan to redistribute 160,000 refugees, mostly from Syria, in the EU over two years.

Out of the six hotspots in Italy, just one each in Lampedusa and Trapani are deemed operational. Lampedusa can house 650 migrants, Trapani 400.

Out of five hotspots in Greece, just one, in Lesbos, works.

The lag means just 273 people out of the quota of 160,000 have been moved so far.

But in peak times, such as last October, up to 135,000 people can arrive in Lesbos from Turkey in one month.

Eight hundred thousand people came to Greece last year in total.

Unable to cope, it requested 1,600 EU border guards and 100 fingerprinting machines. So far, it has received 170 guards and 48 machines, as well as €1.36 million in extra funding.

Unhappy Slovaks

The Dutch EU presidency is shepherding progress. But the next EU chair, Slovakia, which takes over in July, wants to tear down the 160,000-person relocation scheme.

It has lodged a case against the plan at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Slovakia wants, instead, to fast-track a new European border and coast guard and has called for a special EU summit to get it up and running.

But Slovak prime minister Robert Fico is likely to be disappointed.

The Dutch presidency has low ambitions for the border guard project. It is seeking only a non-binding Council position on the issue in the next six months.

The project envisages the EU posting guards to external borders even if host states don’t want them.

Earlier this week, Dutch migration minister Klaas Dijkhoff told MEPs the EU needed to deal with migration in “a way where we have some kind of grip of control”.

Dublin ‘doomed’

EU asylum policy rests on the so-called Dublin regulation.

It says point-of-entry member states, such as Greece and Italy, must process asylum claims on behalf of the EU. It also allows EU states to return people to the entry state, with the exception of Greece, due to poor conditions.

Dijkhoff said the Dublin law is "doomed to fail”.

It is already wobbling. Germany suspended it last October, after announcing an open-door policy for Syrians, but reintroduced it in November after a huge increase in applications.

The unwanted

Member states also agreed in October to step up the return of people not entitled to international protection.

Between September and December, only 683 people were sent to their home countries from Italy and Greece. Most were from Albania, Kosovo, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Only 40 percent or so of those told to leave return home, with a lack of travel documents and readmission agreements complicating matters.

EU states at an Africa summit in Valletta, the Maltese capital, in November pushed African states to take in their nationals, with plans to issue a special EU travel document for paperless migrants.

But the EU proposal caused a backlash among African governments, and EU states later watered down the idea.

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