Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors

  • EU auditors says 445,000 people may have been eligible for relocation (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

A mandatory 2015 scheme to dispatch people seeking international protection from Greece and Italy across the European Union did not deliver promised results, say EU auditors.

Although member states took in some 35,000 people from both countries, the EU auditors say at least 445,000 Eritreans, Iraqis and Syrians may have been potentially eligible in Greece alone.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The lead author of the report, Leo Brincat, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (13 November) that another 36,000 could have also been possibly relocated from Italy.

"But when it boils down to the total migrants relocated, you will find 21,999 in the case of Greece and 12,706 in the case of Italy," he said.

The EU auditors say the migrants relocated at the time represented only around four percent of all the asylum seekers in Italy and around 22 percent in Greece.

Despite being repeatedly billed as a success by the European Commission, the two-year scheme had also caused massive rifts with some member states - leading to EU court battles in Luxembourg.

When it was first launched among interior ministers in late 2015, the mandatory nature of the proposal was forced through by a vote, overturning objections from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Only last month, the advocate-general at the EU court in Luxembourg had declared the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland likely broke EU law for refusing to take in refugees from the 2015 scheme. While the Czech Republic took 12 people, both Hungary and Poland refused to host anyone at all.

Similar battles have for years played out behind closed doors as legislators grapple with deadlocked internal EU asylum reforms.

The concepts of sharing out asylum seekers, also known as relocation, are at the core of that deadlock.

Politics aside, Brincat's report honed in on the so-called "temporary emergency relocation scheme" whereby EU states had agreed to take in some 160,000 people from Greece and Italy over a period spanning from September 2015 to September 2017.

Large numbers of people at the time were coming up through the Western Balkans into Hungary and onto Germany, while others were crossing from Turkey onto the Greek islands.

After the EU cut a deal with Turkey early 2016, the set legal target of 160,000 had been reduced to just over 98,000.

When the scheme finally ended in September 2017, only around 35,000 people had been relocated to member states along with Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

"In our view, relocation was really a demonstration of European solidarity and with almost a 100 percent of eligible candidates in Greece and in Italy having been successfully relocated," a European Commission spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Bottlenecks and other problems

The EU auditors present a different view.

They point out Greek and Italian authorities lacked the staff to properly identify people who could have been relocated, resulting in low registrations.

They also say EU states only took in people from Greece who arrived before the deal was cut with Turkey in March 2016.

Another issue was member states had vastly different asylum-recognition rates. For instance, asylum-recognition rates for Afghanis varied from six percent to 98 percent, depending on the member state. Iraqis had similarly variable rates.

Some migrants also simply didn't trust relocation concept. Others likely baulked at the idea being sent to a country where they had no cultural, language or family ties.

Almost all of the 332 people sent to Lithuania, for example, packed up and left.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had even poked fun of it in late 2016. He had said asylum seekers from Greece and Italy were hard pressed to relocate to his home country of Luxembourg.

"We found 53 after explaining to them that it was close to Germany. They are no longer there [Luxembourg]," he said.

Lack of eligible candidates dogs EU relocation scheme

Member states could fail to meet their refugee quotas even if they wanted to, as strict eligibility rules mean there are few candidates left in Greece and Italy. Sweden is already wondering if it will meet its pledge.

Analysis

Migration crisis is one of mismanagement: the figures

Far fewer people are arriving by sea into Europe. As EU leaders are discussing new measures, the debate appears to suggest a major migration crisis. Yet the crisis is more about political indecision.

Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact

Negotiations on the European Commission's asylum and migration pact among EU states continues. But a rift is widening on the eight-month deadline for capitals to sponsor returns of failed asylum seekers.

Reality bites EU's 'No More Morias' pledge

The EU's hotspot of Moria, a sprawling ghetto-like camp for migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, burned down last September. EU leaders declared such scenes would never be replicated. But its replacement faces similar problems.

EU demands answers on Croat border attacks against migrants

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson wants to send her officials to Croatia sometime this month to make sure authorities there are complying with fundamental rights following numerous allegations of violence against migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross into the country.

EU watchdog launches probe on Croat border violence

The European Ombudsman is launching a case into the lack of proper oversight by the European Commission when it comes to how fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are allegedly being violated by Croat border police.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Giuseppe Conte: scapegoat or Italy's most cunning politician?
  2. Borrell to meet Lavrov, while Navalny behind bars
  3. Too few central and eastern Europeans at top of EU
  4. Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact
  5. EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map
  6. Migrants in Bosnia: a disaster foretold on EU doorstep
  7. Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks
  8. Why Russia politics threaten European security

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us