Monday

8th Mar 2021

Four EU states demand sea-rescue 'solidarity' plan

  • NGO rescue boats are unable to disembark people at ports in Italy and Malta (Photo: Aita Mari)

France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are pressing the European Commission to support a "search and rescue solidarity mechanism".

The demand seeks to feed into the commission's planned relaunch of a failed common European asylum system sometime before the summer.

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Interior ministers from each of the four states bullet pointed their ideas in a two-page joint letter, seen by this website, and sent to the European Commission earlier this month.

The letter does not elaborate on the mechanism itself, but comes amid port closures in Italy and Malta, preventing NGO boats from disembarking people rescued at sea.

Both countries declared their ports unsafe because of the coronavirus. Critics say the closures were a cynical move to prevent further migrants from arriving.

Offshore screening

The letter also rehashed a German proposal, initially outlined last year, to offshore registration, security and medical checks, and identification of asylum seekers.

"The European asylum agency may assist member states in the aforementioned procedures as needed," noted the letter.

The idea of screening people on the edge of the European Union has also gained traction from the Vienna-based International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

In January, its director-general Michael Spindelegger told EUobserver the idea could possibly end the gridlock over EU-wide asylum reforms.

That gridlock is linked to the EU's Dublin regulation, which determines who is responsible for assessing a person's application for international protection.

With some 75 percent of all asylum applications lodged in only five EU states in 2018 and only three percent of cases transferred to those deemed responsible for the applicant, the regulation has largely failed to deliver.

Commission efforts to overhaul Dublin in 2016 led to years of stalemate between bickering member states who never managed to agree on a common position, which is needed to enter talks with the European Parliament.

Binding is back

Their Dublin reform ideas included an automated distribution of asylum-seekers across EU states in case of sudden large inflows, similar to the some one million people that arrived in 2015.

But it was the automated aspect of the reform that triggered a revolt among central and eastern European countries, led by Hungary.

The commission has since announced it would bin the Dublin reform but now the four ministers are proposing a variation that echoes the original contested version.

"We advocate for a fair sharing of responsibility and a reform that must create a binding mechanism for fair distribution according to specific criteria, in particular when a member state is under disproportion pressure," notes the letter.

Such ideas have already been tested by various EU presidencies that sought to bridge gaps by balancing concepts like responsibility and solidarity.

It never worked.

The ministers are also demanding countermeasures to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from leaving one EU state to go to another.

"In particular, reception services for asylum seekers should be provided exclusively by the responsible member state," says the letter, which was addressed to EU commissioners Margaritis Schinas and Ylva Johansson.

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