24th Oct 2016

One year after launch, EU fails on relocation

EU-led efforts to relocate people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece to other EU states remain dismal.

The two-year plan, broadly hatched last September, aims to dispatch some 160,000 people arriving on Italian and Greek shores to other EU states.

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But one year in and less than 3 percent of that total have found a new home outside either country. Some ended up in non-EU states like Norway and Switzerland, which are also part of the scheme.

As of earlier this month, just over 1,000 people left Italy and 3,493 people left Greece.

The European Commission, which masterminded the scheme, on Monday (5 September) urged national governments to step up efforts, but declined to answer questions on potential sanctions if they failed to meet the quotas.

"Relocations are still taking place, the last flights from Greece took place on the second of September," an EU commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels.

In July, the commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, sent a letter to the 28 EU interior ministers imploring them to relocate more people.

Since his appeal, in the period covering August and the first few days of September, member states took in 831 more people. Most went to France, Finland and the Netherlands.

Austria, Hungary, and Poland have yet to relocate anyone. Others, such as the Czech Republic, have relocated just handfuls of people.

France took the most, with 1,431 from Greece alone.

Pledges from EU states to help Greece with border staff and asylum experts have also failed to fully materialise.

Meanwhile, the issues and the numbers remain sensitive.

Hungary has launched an anti-immigrant campaign in the lead up to a national referendum on 2 October on whether to boycott the EU relocation scheme.

The German government is paying a political cost for taking in asylum seekers - on Sunday, the anti-immigrant AfD party beat chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party in regional elections.

In Austria, the EU faces the prospect of having its first far-right head of state, as the FPO party’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, again leads opinion polls ahead of a presidential run-off on 2 October.

Greece returns

Some 50,000 asylum seekers and migrants remain stuck in Greece amid a recent spike in arrivals on the Greek islands since the failed military coup in Turkey in July.

But the EU commission remains intent on getting Greece to start accepting returns from other member states before the end of the year.

Last December, it announced that Greece would return to the so-called Dublin regulation.

The law largely requires the member state where an asylum seeker first entered to process the application. Many slip through and lodge their applications in places like Germany or Sweden instead.

The same law allows EU states to return those people back to the country where they first entered.

Returns to Greece were suspended in 2011 following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on inhumane conditions. But the commission, along with Germany, want that reversed.

Orderly system

"What we want to have is an orderly system whereby refugees who enter Europe have asylum claims treated by the first country they enter into," said the EU commission on Monday.

Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere was more explicit.

On Sunday, he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Greece must improve its handling of refugees.

"This must have consequences that will enable refugees to be sent back to Greece according to the Dublin regulations," he said.

This article originally stated that 65 people had been relocated in August and the start of September. This is incorrect. The correct figure is 831. This article was updated at 12:25 on 6 September 2016.

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