Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

Analysis

EU mantra of 'solidarity' lost on asylum

  • Greece erected a fence along its border with Turkey. Other EU states are doing the same (Photo: euoparl.europa.eu)

The EU mantras of values and inter-state cooperation have lost all meaning in the face of a refugee crisis which has cost the lives of thousands. Few people believe Europe's migration and refugee plans can work.

Some may cling to an ever-fleeting hope, while the most desperate issue warnings that Europe's borderless Schengen zone is fast approaching its end. The threat is real.

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  • Over 350 people drowned off Lampedusa (Photo: Stefanie Eisenschenk)

Germany's border closures are limited to six months under EU laws and must be lifted in May. Yet last week, Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maziere announced they would be indefinite.

The Schengen border code contains an article that allows member states to extend the controls for up to two years. For that to happen, the EU must show the holes in Greece's external borders pose an existential threat to free movement for everyone else.

Late last year, EU technocrats were sent to assess the Greek border gaps but are keeping their findings sceret. Interior ministers on Monday (25 January) will discuss the issue in Amsterdam.

Deer caught in headlights

Most everyone is in a suspended state of panic, waiting like a deer caught in headlights, for the upcoming spring and summer months to arrive.

The projected figures are alarming.

Almost 37,000 people arrived in Italy and Greece in the first 21 days of this year, 10 times more than the same period in 2014. Of those, 36,000 arrived on the Greek islands alone.

The EU's master plans, while in part commendable, have failed to deliver.

The European Commission and the European Parliament blame member states for the delays, the bickering, and dirty politics which have seen its broad asylum policies grind to a near halt.

EU states blame one another, while some point fingers at Brussels amid wider resentment of marauding North African and Arab young men, allegedly groping white women at festivals and other public events.

Leaders on the Brussels media stage continue to present a veneer of cooperation in the spirit of what they like to call EU values. The spin is beginning to border on the absurd, however.

Press hear statements of solidarity peppered, within the same press briefings, of dire threats on the EU's possible demise, as pictures of washed-up children flash on TV screens in Europeans’ homes.

Hotspots

So, what happened? Where, and why did it all go so terribly wrong?

Last May, the commission announced a number of new asylum measures. It proposed so-called hotspots to ring fence arrivals in Italy and Greece and a separate relocation scheme to dispatch them to other member states.

The hotspot concept was introduced on 27, May but was never clearly defined. The basic idea is to separate people in need of international protection from those who do not qualify.

People are supposed to be screened, identified, and registered in a database. Others are sent home. In practice, none of this works. Those who don't quality for asylum are more likely to end up on the streets.

Few foreign governments adhere to readmission agreements, with EU countries sending home only around 680 rejected applicants in the period September 2014 to January this year.

Greece tried sending 39 people to Pakistan in early December, but authorities in Islamabad rejected 26 of them because they did not recognise the paperwork from its own embassy in Athens.

Meanwhile, six hotspots were announced in Italy and five in Greece. Months later, and only two were deemed operational in Italy and one in Greece. They are severely understaffed.

The Greek island of Lesbos, where some 135,000 people arrived in October alone, still has less than 10 experts from the EU's asylum support office, Easo.

EU states are supposed to help, but only 447 border guards out of the requested 775 have been delivered. Even then, it is questionable if the 775 would make much difference.

Relocation

The EU’s initial relocation plan was also presented in May and became legally binding in September last year.

People arriving in Greece and Italy, after having gone through the procedures, are supposed to have the option of either applying for asylum or opting for relocation.

In reality, people don't do either. Instead they fan out into the rest of the EU, with most heading to Germany and Sweden.

One sixty thousand asylum seekers are supposed to be relocated over the next two years under the commission scheme. EU states announced 4,237 spots, but, so far, fewer than 300 have been relocated since the September launch.

Letting them slip through the system works for Greece and Italy because they don't have to deal with them - it costs money and is a massive administrative effort.

They also have to grapple with integration issues: housing; language; medical care; employment; schooling.

Why bother? Especially if Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has an open-door policy for Syrians.

Greece's problems are compounded by its lingering economic crisis and the political mess in Athens.

But at least it doesn't have to worry about returns.

The EU's Dublin law, which says other EU states can send people back to Greece, if it was their first point of entry into the European Union, has been suspended for Greece only, because its migrant holding centres are deemed to be inhumane, by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, among others.

It is what the more cynical pundits might refer to as a blessing in disguise.

It’s also why Hungary couldn't send people back to Greece and instead funnelled them to Austria.

Some two year’s ago, the EU’s top brass stared in solemn silence at a row of coffins in a warehouse on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Over 350 people had drowned, some children, others only babies, off the Lampedusa coastline in October 2013. Most were Eritreans and people from Somalia and Ghana.

The shock sparked grandiloquent statements of European values and promises of better cooperation among member states.

Two years years later, and those words still mean almost nothing in practice.

Greece risks Schengen expulsion

Austria's interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, wants Greece booted out of the passport-free Schengen zone unless it secures its, and the EU's, external borders.

Merkel and Turkish PM in show of support

Ahmet Davutoglu assured the German chancellor that Turkey would make "all possible efforts" to reduce the number of migrants entering Europe. Merkel hinted at further aid from the EU.

EU failing to deliver on migration plans

Three out of 11 hotspots in place. Two hundred and seventy people out of 160,000 relocated: Last year's EU promises to limit and better manage migration flows yet to materialise.

Merkel to plead with Turkey on migrants

German leader is in Ankara to urge a limit on migrant numbers, as thousands of Syrians gather on Turkey's southern border after fleeing Russian bombs in Aleppo.

Greece rejects Schengen threats as 'blame game'

Greek officials reject mounting EU criticism of their leaky borders as a "blame game ... punishment," amid calls to expel Greece from the passport-free Schengen area.

Greece 'seriously neglected' border controls, says EU

The European Commission has accused Greece of "seriously neglecting its obligations" to manage its frontiers amid broader threats to extend border controls in the Schengen area to two years.

Frontex naval operation to look for 'foreign fighters'

The EU border and coast guard agency, or Frontex, has launched a new naval operation called Themis. The operation replaces its surveillance Triton mission but with a bigger emphasis on security and intelligence gathering.

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