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26th Sep 2020

Computer to make EU asylum decisions

The European Commission wants a computer to instruct member states how many asylum seekers they must host based on their population size and wealth.

The plan is aimed at depoliticising a toxic decision-making process on asylum, following failed EU-level efforts to relocate asylum seekers across member states.

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"Whenever a member state has to face a disproportionate number of asylum applications, responsibility for new applicants of all nationalities will be transferred to other member states," EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans told reporters on Wednesday (5 May).

An EU official said the computer was needed because the current EU decision process on distributing people in times of crisis was too complex and required too many lengthy debates with national governments.

"This system will kick in when there is a disproportionate level of applications, above a certain threshold, and enable the distribution to other member states under less pressure," said the official.

Refuseniks must pay €250,000

Hosted by the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the computer will monitor the number of asylum applications in each member state as well as the number of refugees resettled from outside the EU.

The computer will link up to a network of national systems, and authorities in each country will add data on asylum applications.

The machine will then decide if a member state has received a disproportionate number of applications, and if so, it will redistribute the applications among other states.

Should an EU state refuse to accept the asylum seekers, it will face a €250,000 "solidarity contribution" to the hosting member state.

All EU states except the UK, Ireland and Denmark have to participate. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein have no say in the latest scheme but also have to accept it because they are not in the EU but they are part of the EU’s so called Schengen free-movement zone.

A second EU source said the idea was "a lesson learned from the relocation experience".

EU states last September had agreed to distribute some 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece. But only around 1 percent have been relocated.

The Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia opposed the quota systems. All four had voted against the September plan. They were later joined by the new Polish government.

Hungary and Slovakia are challenging it in the EU court. Hungary is also to hold a referendum on future European Union quotas.

The opposition, combined with the failure of the relocation policy, has helped hatch the latest commission plan, which is part of a much larger revamp of the so-called Dublin regulation, also presented on Wednesday

Asylum nerve centre

The Dublin regulation stipulates that the country through which asylum seekers first entered the EU has to process asylum applications on behalf of all other member states.

But most asylum seekers had in the past slipped through Italy and Greece before ending up in northern states like Germany and Sweden.

"This Dublin looks, for the Game of Thrones fans among you, this Dublin looks like Jon Snow stabbed on a table and dead for a couple of days," said Timmermans, referring to a popular TV show.

The commission says its newest Dublin plan will prevent asylum seekers from moving by imposing geographical limitations on their rights.

It says the plan imposes an "explicit obligation" to require asylum seekers to lodge their applications where they first entered or in the EU state where they now live.

"We either face this challenge together or we give up on facing it at all, with dire consequences for all," said Timmermans.

The new rules are packaged with a plan to expand Eurodac, a biometric database for asylum seekers, to include personal data from non-EU nationals and from stateless people, such as Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom also came to Europe last year.

It also includes turning EASO into the EU's asylum nerve centre by expanding its remit, increasing its budget, and creating a pool of 500 asylum experts that can be posted to states in emergency situations.

"EASO will now be called the European Union Agency for Asylum," said an EU source.

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