22nd Mar 2018

Lack of solidarity dogs EU asylum reform

  • Abela (l) 'The Dublin system does not cater for scenarios of exceptional circumstances' (Photo: European Union)

European solidarity was in short supply in Brussels on Thursday (18 May) amid ongoing disagreement on how to overhaul asylum laws.

Interior ministers met in the EU capital to discuss reform of the so-called Dublin law that determines which member state is responsible for processing an asylum seeker's claim.

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The Maltese EU presidency, which is steering the bill through the Council, representing member states, aims to reach consensus by the end of June, when its term at the EU helm expires.

Malta's interior minister Carmelo Abela told reporters after Thursday’s talks that there was agreement on stepping up returns of rejected asylum seekers back home.

But he added that “further work is clearly needed” on the rest of the file and that “we will be returning to the issue in June, evidently compromises are needed from all sides”.

The meeting took place in an informal format, designed to help people gel, but Abdela said the talks were “frank” in nature, which is diplomatic code for prickliness and discord.

"There is still no consensus in the Council. I don't hide to tell you I expressed my disappointment on that," said EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

The European Commission tabled the Dublin reform bill last year, but Malta is looking increasingly unlikely to deliver an outcome.

It has floated a number of internal papers on how to parcel out refugees across all EU states. Most of them enter the EU via Italy or Greece and are meant to stay there, under the existing Dublin regime, until their asylum request is processed.

It is hoping to reach consensus on one of the models in order to avoid another fiasco like the EU relocation quotas, which were rammed through by a vote in the Council in 2015 and which later saw Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland rebel against the scheme.

Malta’s third and latest ideas paper on Dublin, seen by this website, was circulated in April.

The six-page document said all EU states should accept at least 50 percent of asylum seekers allocated to them based on a distribution key.

Those that refused to take more than 50 percent would have to make other contributions and pay a sum of money for each person not accepted.

Hungary, Poland and Slovakia balk at having any sort of mandatory quota system, however.

Aid groups like the UN children’s fund Unicef have also attacked the EU commission's Dublin reform proposal.

Child asylum seekers on rise

Verena Knaus, Unicef senior policy adviser, told EUobserver on Thursday that the bill would lead to "persistent and systematic child right violations" if implemented in its current form.

Her comments followed a Unicef report that says the number of child migrants and refugees is steadily on the rise.

"Today one in two refugees in the world is a child and one in 200 children in the world is a refugee," she said.

Some 170,000 unaccompanied or separated children applied for asylum in Europe last year. Around a third of the some 100,000 kids who landed in Europe last year also arrived alone. More than 90 percent of the 28,000 that landed in Italy were alone.

"I think it is clear that the system we have at the moment is failing, it is failing children, but it is also failing states," Knaus said.

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The Czech Republic and the European Commission appear to be gearing up for a legal battle following announcements by Prague to suspend the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

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EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".

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