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29th May 2022

Lack of eligible candidates dogs EU relocation scheme

  • EU refugee camp in Samos, Greece, where people are waiting for relocation. (Photo: Joseph Boyle)

EU leaders will once again discuss a scheme to relocate asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU member states, as they meet for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (22-23 June).

Less than 20,000 people have been relocated so far under the scheme, which was originally due to move 160,000 over a two-year period ending in September.

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Earlier this month, the European Commission launched legal action against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, over their refusal to participate in the scheme - an issue that has caused bad blood between EU countries for months.

But it is not certain whether these countries could meet their obligations even if they wanted to.

Even one of the strongest proponents of the scheme - Sweden - is struggling to make it.

Sweden was supposed to relocate 3,766 people under the EU scheme. But after the country of 10 million registered 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015, resulting in bottlenecks in the Swedish reception system, it applied for a one-year derogation in meeting its quota.

The derogation expired on 16 June. Since the start of the scheme in 2015, Sweden has so far relocated around 400 people from Greece and Italy.  

The government says it has enough empty spaces in reception homes to meet its pledge by September - but that this may not be possible for lack of available candidates.

According to EU figures, there are currently only 4,000 people in Greece and 1,388 in Italy awaiting transfer.

The commission has already revised downwards the initial 160,000 figure, first to 98,000 and then to 33,000 earlier this year.

”We will take as many people as there are candidates, and would it show there aren't any people to relocate, then we have done what we could,” justice minister Morgan Johansson told EUobserver on Wednesday (21 June).

While there are many people stuck on the Greek islands and Italian camps, only a few qualify for the EU relocation scheme.

Candidates have to come from a country where more than 75 percent of asylum seekers are successful in their applications.

The list of countries is updated quarterly.

It currently features: Bahrain, Eritrea, Grenada, Guatemala, Syria and Yemen, or stateless people who have previously resided in one of these countries.

The list also features people from British overseas countries and territories (the parts of the former British Empire that have not been granted independence or have voted to remain British territories) - but not Iraq or Afghanistan, which have lately seen many people flee war and prosecution from the Islamic State and the Taliban.

The applicants must also have arrived in Italy or Greece after 24 March 2015.

A senior EU official told EUobserver that the rules may be harsh, "but those were the rules on which the decision on setting up a relocation scheme was taken".

A draft of the EU summit conclusions invites the commission to ”explore possible solutions to alleviate the burden on frontline member states”, a reference to Greece and Italy.

EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors

A two-year scheme to send asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states fell short of its potential, say EU auditors. Some 35,000 were helped - but auditors say 445,000 in Greece alone could have also potentially benefited.

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