EU commission defends ailing migration policies
The European Commission continues to defend EU agreements, broadly ignored by member states, to better manage migrant inflows.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner in charge of migration, on Wednesday (10 February) said national governments are lagging behind on overall efforts.
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"If all member states had done what they were supposed to do the landscape of the situation would be different than today," he said.
The former Greek defence minister evoked vague threats of a Europe returning to the "dark sides, the dark memories of our recent history" should the plans fail.
"From the moment this system [the hotspots to register migrants] starts working, things will be totally different," he said.
Avramopoulos' statements followed the commission publication of a series of so-called progress reports on how agreements tailored to ease the migratory pressure on the Western Balkans, Greece and Italy are being implemented.
With exceptions on the recent uptake of asylum registrations in Greece and Italy, the EU executive's overall assessment remains dire.
The wider prognosis comes as little surprise given the political and logistical problems that have dogged the EU-level agreements for months.
The release of the documents is meant to stir debate among EU leaders ahead of an EU summit in Brussels next week.
Leaked draft summit conclusions seen by this website places emphasis on shoring up external borders and refusing entry even to those "who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity to do so."
Avramopoulos, for his part, said he had sent letters to all EU interior ministers to pressure them into relocating some 160,000 people from Greece and Italy over the next two years.
"So far, only 497 migrants were relocated," he said of a plan launched last September.
Fifteen EU states offered 1,081 places to relocate some 66,400 people from Greece. Only 218 have been filled. Italy's relocation target is 39,600 but only 279 have been dispatched.
Over 880,000 people landed in Greece from Turkey last year alone with projected figures suggesting many more will arrive. But of those, Greece managed to return less than 20,000. Italy, for its part, returned around 14,000.
The return problem, is due in part, to bi-lateral readmission agreements not being respected by countries like Pakistan and Turkey.
Avramopoulos noted, among other things, that Greece will have a month to improve asylum reception conditions so that other states can start transferring migrants back to Athens under the strained Dublin asylum rule.
Greece in 2011 was booted out of Dublin, which says a country through which asylum seekers first entered the EU have to handle applications for asylum on behalf of all other member states.
The policy is set for a big overhaul in March. But it will still have to go through the normal EU co-legislative procedures, a process that could take years given past reform efforts on Dublin.
Greece and Italy improve fingerprinting
Meanwhile, Greece and Italy have made some improvements.
Fingerprints registered in the Eurodac asylum database in Greece went from 8 percent last September to 78 percent this January. Italy went from 36 percent to 87 percent over the same period.
But both have yet to get all their respective migrant arrival screening zones up and running. Known as hotspots, the zones underpin EU's stalled relocation scheme.
Out of the five designated hotspots in Greece, only the one in Lesbos is operational. The Greek Army is aiming to get others ready by next Monday. Greece is able to house around 17,600 arrivals but committed to accommodating 50,000.
In Italy, out of six announced, only one in Lampedusa and another in Pozzallo are running.
The Western Balkans are also coming up short. Less than half of the 50,000 additional reception places have been made available.