Tuesday

11th Dec 2018

Most asylum seekers ineligible, EU commissioner says

  • Timmermans (r) and Dmitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, at migrant camp on Kos, a Greek island, last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

More than half of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in the EU last December were not entitled to international protection, the EU has said, marking a possible trend reversal.

In an interview with Dutch media outlet Nos on Monday (25 January), European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said more than 60 percent did not qualify.

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  • Timmermans' figures are sourced from an unpublished report by EU border agency Frontex (Photo: European commission)

"More than half of the people now arriving to Europe come from countries where you can assume they have no reason to apply for refugee status. More than half, 60 percent", he said.

The figures are sourced from an unpublished report by the EU border agency Frontex and may represent a major trend shift.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) had previously said that up until the start of December over 75 percent of those arriving in Europe had fled conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

Lower in January

EU Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud, for her part, said the figure for January appears to be lower than Frontex's estimate of 60 percent for December.

The statistics so far for January were not provided but the Swiss-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) maintains that some 90 percent of all new arrivals in Greece since the start of the year come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

IOM missions in Greece and the Western Balkans estimate some 38,876 Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis crossed into Macedonia in the two weeks prior to 21 January, nearly 47 percent fewer than in the preceding two weeks.

It also estimates that 45,361 arrived by sea on the Greek islands since the start of the year.

"This is roughly 31 times as many as the 1,472 recorded by the Greek Coast Guard for the whole of January 2015," the IOM noted in a statement.

Returns

The EU and member states like Greece are still struggling to return home people who don't qualify.

The EU has a readmission agreement with Pakistan but it is not working in practice. Greece last December tried to send dozens back but they were blocked by authorities in Islamabad.

Matthias Ruete, who heads the commission's migration and home affairs directorate, said similar problems were being encountered with Turkey.

He noted Greece had filed some 12,000 readmissions to Turkey. Turkey accepted 6,000 of those but only 50 actually returned.

"Some of it because the people had just absconded, some of it because the Turkish authorities were so long in terms of replying to these requests", he said on Tuesday.

Mounting pressure

Pressure is now mounting to extend border controls within the EU's passport-free Schengen zone to up to two years.

EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on Monday asked the EU Commission to draw up plans to prolong the checks.

Bertaud told reporters on Tuesday that those checks were likely to be extended given that many more people are expected to arrive in the upcoming months.

"If the situation does not change and there could be indeed justifications under public order and security reasons to maintain internal controls at internal Schengen borders as long as the external borders are not effectively controlled", she said.

All eyes are on Greece, which is the target of the bulk of migrant inflows.

Greek authorities are struggling to patrol Turkey's 1,800-kilometre coastline.

Last year, almost 20,000 small rubber boats landed on the Greek islands and some 2,800 in December alone.

EU states push for two-year border controls

EU member states are looking at legal ways to keep border controls in place for up to two years, as the migration influx puts unprecedented pressure on the passport-free travel zone.

Dutch want migrant swap deal with Turkey

Netherlands is pushing for a deal that would see the EU accept up to 250,000 refugees a year from Turkey, and Turkey taking back all migrants who arrive illegally in Greece.

Timmermans blunders on migrant figures

Around 90 percent of people seeking refuge in the EU in December come from war-torn nations, contradicting earlier statements from EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

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