Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Opinion

Temporary Protection: EU had plan for migrant influx

  • The 2001 Directive on Temporary Protection is designed for mass influx situations. (Photo: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation)

EU Ministers struggling with mandatory quotas to address a migration and refugee crisis over which they have little control, seem to have forgotten or overlooked the fact that fourteen years ago their predecessors created a tool ready for use in just such a crisis.

The 2001 Directive on Temporary Protection is designed for mass influx situations. On paper, it is the perfect tool to deal with the Syrian arrivals.

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The Directive provides for member states to agree, by qualified majority, to a commission proposal that a national group (for example, Syrians) should qualify for temporary protection starting from a specified date.

An estimate of the numbers should be made, and, under the solidarity section, Member States should say how many temporary protection places they can offer - voluntarily. Funding is available, and when capacity is reached, the commission should return to the Council to seek more places and offer more funding.

In other words, this existing EU agreement does pretty much all the commission has been asking for, but keeps things voluntary and, in the first instance, temporary.

Pause for breath

It has never been implemented: Why not use it now?

The Temporary Protection Directive was negotiated between 1999 and 2001 following the Kosovar refugee crisis. Some Kosovars arrived as asylum seekers, while others (more than 50,000) were evacuated from (FYR) Macedonia when Skopje could not handle arrivals and the EU and other industrialised states, responding to public opinion in favour of refugees (a situation mirrored now), created the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme.

Temporary protection for Kosovars was based on experience with Bosnians earlier in the 1990s, but was also a reflection of the type of protection received by Hungarians in 1956, Czechoslovaks in 1968 and Poles in 1981 who first found temporary protection in neighbouring states (for example, Austria) and then moved on to other locations in western Europe and elsewhere.

So there is history in this. However, in those cases the temporary protection was instead of asylum – in the Directive it is just a pause for breath before asylum procedures.

Temporary protection, according to the directive, is administrative – it gives asylum decision-making bodies a year, or two, to get organised in order to assess each individual asylum claim. In the meantime, people who are part of a mass influx are given basic protection – registered and allowed to remain, with housing and other needs and rights met.

By the end of temporary protection it could be that people are able to start to return to their countries of origin , if a conflict has been resolved. Otherwise their asylum claims will be assessed.

Refugee advocates sometimes oppose temporary protection, saying it undermines the right to asylum – but this is a tool that allows states to uphold their values and international obligations in times of crisis.

A chance to look coordinated

If ever there was a time to implement this directive this is it.

A large and sudden influx, much of it focused on one member state. Germany could ask the commission to propose this to the council, or Hungary or Croatia could do it.

Solidarity, which the commission and some Member States seek, is built into the Directive – no need to re-negotiate it. Relocation from Greece, Hungary and Croatia would be part of the deal.

The EU Member States have not agreed on much about asylum, and are divided on what to do about the current crisis. A crisis is not the time for big decisions and new ideas.

The Temporary Protection Directive was agreed by cool heads after the last refugee crisis – perhaps its moment has come? It is an EU plan, agreed to by all. It should surely be on the table – if not, why not?

The only obvious stumbling block is that we are in a post-9/11 world and ISIS lurks in the background. So registration would need to be thorough.

But the Syrians are already in Europe, and more are arriving by the day – why not use the Temporary Protection agreement to give the EU its best chance to look coordinated?

Why are the commission and member states ignoring the plan they had made long ago for a crisis such as this?

Joanne van Selm is an independent consultant with twenty years of experience working on international migration and refugee policies

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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