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24th Jan 2022

Lead MEP wants 'mandatory relocation' in EU asylum law

  • Some countries, such as Greece, want other EU member states to take in more arriving asylum seekers from its shores (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)
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The lead MEP on the EU's legislative migration reform wants mandatory distribution of asylum seekers to be written into law when dealing with crisis scenarios.

But a similar idea, back in 2015, led to years of deadlock among member states, derailing the European Commission's asylum package under then president Jean-Claude Juncker.

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"Binding solidarity, by binding relocations, mandatory relocations, that is the main message," Spanish centre-left MEP Juan Lopez Aguilar, told fellow lawmakers in the civil liberties committee on Tuesday (30 November).

The number of people relocated to a member state would be determined by GDP, population size and unemployment rate, he said.

Lopez Aguilar also proposed creating a new EU relocation coordinator to distribute asylum seekers.

In a subsequent press conference, he said his idea had received majority support among the European Parliament political groups.

"The majority would actually be ready to give it a go, to solidarity, actual solidarity, which means finding solidarity through mandatory relocation programmes if needed," he said.

Lopez Aguilar is spearheading a so-called crisis regulation, proposed as part of a larger migration pact by the European Commission last September.

His draft has yet to be voted on in the plenary and is still under discussion.

His relocation ideas reflect the views of so-called 'frontline' member states, like Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain - those with Mediterranean coastlines where the bulk of arriving people first land.

But it also stands at odds with Tomas Tobe, a centre-right Swedish MEP leading the parliament's file on the commission's draft asylum and migration regulation.

"For me, it is clear that this is not the way forward," he said in October of mandatory relocations.

The draft crisis regulation seeks to handle issues where there is a sudden large arrival of migrants and asylum seekers at the borders.

Lopez Aguilar's mandatory relocation proposal also departs from the European Commission's original suggestion.

The commission wants "a compulsory solidarity mechanism" but with 'a la carte' options.

"We know that all member states will never accept mandatory relocation, that is one thing we know already," EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas told reporters last September during the presentation of the new migration pact.

"There is no mechanism saying that you have to do especially relocation," added EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.

Efforts to get Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to relocate a small number of asylum seekers in a 2015 temporary scheme ended up in the EU court in Luxembourg.

They lost the case in 2020 but, by then, the scheme had ended.

The commission had also in 2015 presented a proposal for a regulation on a permanent crisis relocation mechanism under the so-called Dublin regulation.

The idea met with stiff resistance among some EU states, especially Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic.

With its old reforms deadlocked among EU states and going nowhere, it withdrew the proposals in 2019 and instead offered EU states other options aside from relocation.

This includes a so-called "return sponsorship" - whereby an EU state can deport a rejected asylum seeker on the behalf of another.

But Lopez Aguilar dismissed it.

"How would it be workable? It's not clear how sponsoring a return, maybe actually [would] work," he said.

Both Schinas and Johansson have repeatedly been referring to the crisis regulation bill as a solution to the ongoing Belarus border tensions between Minsk and neighbouring Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

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