Thursday

25th May 2017

Opinion

Relocation farce brings shame on Europe

  • Human Rights Watch wants lone children to be relocated regardless of their nationality (Photo: IOM.int)

On the one-year anniversary of the EU plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, the first countries of arrival, the scheme must be judged a farce.

First, the EU cut the number by a third. Then, in the year since the plan was approved, it moved just 5,821 people to other member states.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Poland, a country of 39mn people, has not found room for one refugee (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

While the relocation requirement is legally binding on EU member states, some countries are flouting EU decision-making rules and shirking their responsibilities.

Some have contributed fairly but others, it would seem, are either actively bucking the programme or passively offering little or nothing in the hope the issue will to go away or that the asylum seekers will end up elsewhere.

Despite an European Commission press statement touting “significant progress” in relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, prime minister Robert Fico of Slovakia said just a few days ago that the idea of migration quotas was “politically finished”.

Indeed, a handful of EU states have aggressively attacked the relocation scheme and the very concept of sharing responsibility.

Last December, Slovakia, which currently holds the EU presidency, and Hungary filed a legal action against the relocation scheme with the EU Court of Justice.

In Hungary, the referendum against the quota has opened the way for a state-sponsored xenophobic anti-migrant campaign. Denmark and the UK took the damaging decision on day one to opt out, while Sweden has successfully sought a one-year delay.

Austria, Hungary and Poland have flatly refused to take anyone. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have hardly done better, each taking a dozen or fewer people.

The Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia - joined by Austria, has proposed no humane alternative and their attacks on the relocation scheme send the grim message to stranded people that their suffering is not a matter of concern.

As for relocating asylum seekers, a disappointingly small group of countries has led by example.

French example

France has relocated the largest number - 1,987 - over a third of the total. Finland, Portugal, the Netherlands and even Malta, Cyprus, and Luxembourg, the EU’s smallest countries, have made progress toward fulfilling their commitments.

Germany, on the other hand, hailed a year ago for welcoming refugees, has been stalling for months. There have been recent positive signs, with over 150 people relocated in just a few weeks. Belgium and Spain, also at the back of the pack, should follow suit.

While a show of solidarity from EU countries is perhaps more important than ever, the crucial goal of the relocation plan is to ensure that asylum seekers are not warehoused in poor conditions and backlogged asylum systems.

Given the human-made tragedy for the over 60,000 asylum seekers stranded in Greece, by that measure too the plan has failed.

Many have been stuck for months in filthy, unsafe camps and with few basic services except for those provided by volunteers. Overcrowding, unacceptable living conditions, lack of protection for women and children, and lack of space in shelters for unaccompanied children are common in Greece and in Italy.

Authorities in both countries are struggling to cope with an increasing number of asylum applications.

As if things weren’t bad enough, many asylum seekers are not even eligible for relocation. Relocation under the plan is open only to nationals of countries whose EU-wide protection rate exceeds 75 percent, based on data updated quarterly.

At the start, Eritrean, Iraqi and Syrian nationals could apply, along with people from a few surprising places like Costa Rica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. But Afghans - one-fourth of those stranded in Greece - were never included. Since June, Iraqis have been ineligible.

In a resolution adopted by a large margin on 15 September, European lawmakers rightly called on the European Council to bring Afghans and Iraqis into the relocation scheme, and urged countries to make at least one-third of their relocation places available by the end of the year.

Lone children

Human Rights Watch believes the EU should consider making unaccompanied children eligible regardless of nationality.

This is an opportunity for the commission to do the right thing: extend the scope of vulnerable asylum seekers eligible for relocation and trigger infringement procedures to hold accountable countries that ignore their obligations.

Member states whose leaders believe in a common European response to the refugee crisis should step up their contribution and oppose the Visegrad group’s obstructionism.

This would bring back some meaningful hope for the tens of thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy.

Philippe Dam is advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch

Orban spins migrant vote result, as EU celebrates

Hungarians have rejected xenophobia with their resounding no-show to Viktor Orban's referendum on Sunday, according to European politicians. But the prime minister claims the vote has validated his battle with Brussels.

Why the EU doesn't get China's Belt and Road

It is not enough for European officials to simply tell the press that they do not understand the Belt and Road – the vision is clear enough, the point is to decide how to engage with it.

Development serving the purpose of migration control

While the EU is sacrificing development aid to serve short-term migration interests, it is important to realise that enhanced border controls will not solve the root causes of forced migration and displacement.

News in Brief

  1. British PM to speak out on US terrorism leaks
  2. Tusk calls for 'values, not just interests' after Trump meeting
  3. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  4. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  5. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan
  6. Report: VW threatened with €19.7 billion French fine
  7. Turkey begins mass trial of suspected coup leaders
  8. Merkel's CDU consolidates lead in polls

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Latest News

  1. EU to Trump: Defend Western values, not your interests
  2. Nato to join Trump's anti-IS coalition
  3. Trump expected to make Nato pledge
  4. Car-sharing's promise of clean cities
  5. Openness over Brexit is 'political play', says EU ombudsman
  6. Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal
  7. New EU right to data portability to cause headaches
  8. Cyber threats are inevitable, paralyzing impact is not

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus
  2. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  5. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  6. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  8. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  10. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  12. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey