Friday

5th Mar 2021

Analysis

'Sponsored returns' may shuffle failed asylum seekers around EU

  • 'Two-thirds of those coming to the European Union will have a negative asylum decision - but many of them stay for years,' said EU commissioner Ylva Johannson (Photo: Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI))

The European Commission wants member states to increase deportations of people not entitled to international protection.

But its latest plan, part of last week's migration and asylum pact, to get them to sponsor returns for other member states may simply end up shuffling people with no right to asylum around Europe.

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In fact, only 29 percent of people ordered to return last year were sent back to their actual home countries - the lowest figure since 2011.

The commission's sponsorship idea aims to increase that percentage, while at the same time helping an EU member state under stress. It comes with an interesting condition.

An EU state has eight months to return someone on the behalf of another member country. If not, the person is sent to the EU state that failed to return him or her. The commission argues this eight-month window is double the amount of time normally needed to return someone.

But there are caveats to suggest this may backfire.

First, some figures.

It is worth noting over 71,000 returns were carried out in 2019. Most dealt with people from Albania, Morocco and Algeria. Another 67,000 left voluntarily, with many returning to Ukraine.

Second, such a sponsorship allows capitals to drop simple relocation as an option - the transfer of an asylum-seeker already on EU territory to another member state.

Past efforts to relocate some 160,000 people from Greece and Italy over a two-year period ended up in court battles at the European Court of Justice. In the end, only around 35,000 were redistributed.

One Greek official said it took over 100 days on average to relocate a single person.

So instead of having to relocate, one EU state would now take on the responsibility of returning someone on the behalf of another.

For example: Germany agrees to deport a failed asylum-seeker in Greece back to Algeria. But should Berlin fail to do it within eight months, then Athens sends that person on to Germany.

In times of crisis, when large numbers of people arrive at once, the eight month deadline for Germany is cut in half.

Practical details of how to carry out such transfers for returns from Germany remain vague. But a likely scenario involves detention, for possibly up to six months.

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban says this is simply relocation in disguise. Meanwhile, others more deserving of relocation would be stuck in Greece, Cyprus, Italy or Malta.

Last week, a European Commission official appeared to make a similar assertion. She noted a person that is not returned becomes an irregular migrant.

She explained returns were more likely to be carried out if the EU state gets to choose the nationality, noting possible diplomatic relations and ties.

The EU border and coast guard agency Frontex, would also assist. A second commission official insisted that return sponsorship is not a system of distribution.

"It is actually a system of cooperation," she pointed out.

And here comes a caveat.

Cooperation among some member states, when it comes to migration, is patchy. Even transfers under the so-called Dublin regulation, which determined the country responsible for asylum applications, was ineffective.

Instead, member states did everything possible to minimise their responsibility under Dublin, while conversely investing resources to transfer people elsewhere.

National (in)competency

On returns, national incompetence is another caveat.

The European commission's former directorate general for internal affairs, Matthias Ruete, once told MEPs why member states failed to return so many people.

He described a lack of coordination among state migration officials.

"We have certain legal provisions and administrative practices in member states affecting both the asylum return systems, which may slow down processes, frustrate return," he said.

Countries of origin were not much better, with some flat out refusing returns while others demanding it only take place on their national airlines.

"We have [foreign] consulates [within the EU], which to certain extent, advise their nationals on procedures in order to prolong their stay in the European Union," he pointed out.

Will EU states faced with such obstacles agree to the sponsorship deal? EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johannson thinks so.

Her plan aims to use new rules on visas, passed in February, as a threat to get countries to take back their nationals - when her biggest problem will be the member states themselves.

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