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22nd Feb 2024

EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration chief

  • People are being pushed back into non-EU Bosnia from Croatia (Photo: Hannu-Pekka Laiho / International Red Cross)

EU states are unprepared to handle a repeat of 2015 when over a million people arrived seeking asylum and international protection, warns the head of an international organisation on migration.

Michael Spindelegger, the director-general of the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) told EUobserver on Tuesday (28 January) that both the Western Balkan countries and EU states won't be able to handle a sudden large inflow.

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"If you don't start to solve the problem in the transit country, you will have the situation in your country and then you can't handle it. It would be the same as 2015 and 2016," he said.

His comments follow ICMPD projections that more people are likely over the next 12 months to leave towards Europe from Iran, Libya and South America should conditions in each continue to deteriorate.

Asylum applications last year from both Venezuela and Colombia now rank among the top five nationalities.

"This is really something remarkable we have not seen during the last years," he said, noting that most are being filed in Spain.

His comments also follow warnings by Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel that Libya could become the new Syria, where some 6.7m Syrians fled the country in 2018 alone.

Spindelegger, who was Austria's foreign minister before taking over the role at ICMPD in 2016, has also taken onboard a controversial German proposal floated late last year to set up centres near or just outside the EU to screen, process claims and return anyone denied protection.

"I think this is really something where you could also find a way out of this gridlock that we have," he said in a nod to deadlocked EU asylum reforms proposed years ago.

Spindelegger said the idea would eradicate quotas, a method by which EU states would take in a pre-determined number of arriving asylum seekers.

Such quotas have driven a wedge between EU states, pitting southern and northern members against the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

Elsewhere, police in Croatia have faced long-standing accusations of a violent push back of migrants into Bosnia, with reports some have had their bones broken and stripped of all their possessions.

"They take your jacket, shoes, socks," one migrant from Afghanistan recently told the New York Times.

Pressed to respond, Croatia's minister of interior Davor Bozinovic denied any pushbacks by the police despite numerous media reports and NGO testimonies dating from 2016.

In an exchange with MEPs on Monday, Bozinovic instead cast doubt on the intentions of people entering Croatia by avoiding national authorities and official border crossings.

"Could you explain to me that someone who deserves international protection are worried to contact even national authorities, in this case Croatian authorities," he said.

The whole comes ahead of the European Commission's new pact on migration, set to be revealed at the end of March. The commission is meeting individual EU states to get their input. It had as of last Friday so far spoken to 15.

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