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5th Mar 2024

EU to propose 'binding' quotas for migrant relocation

  • The IOM says around 34,570 people attempted the perilous boat journey from Libya towards Italy this year alone (Photo: Migrant Offshore Aid Station)

The European Commission’s European Agenda for Migration, to be unveiled later this week, will include politically sensitive proposals on possible binding rules to distribute asylum seekers and refugees among member states.

EU leaders had largely sidelined both issues in an emergency summit on migration last month following the drowning of over 1,700 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

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But leaked documents, seen by EUobserver, indicate that both ideas are now back on the table in an effort to help ease pressure on select member states.

"The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states," notes the draft document.

Some 80 percent of all asylum applications are processed in six EU countries, with most refugees from Syria either ending up in Germany or Sweden.

Germany’s Angela Merkel reportedly backs the commission’s proposals but the issue has already generated a backlash elsewhere.

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban on Friday described the commission plan as “mad and unfair”.

Earlier this month, he proposed setting up new national legislation to keep out immigrants even it runs counter to EU rules.

"If [other EU members] want to receive immigrants, they can do it. But then they should not send them back here, or through us,” said the Hungarian leader.

According to the leaked commission text, the EU executive wants member states to resettle around 20,000 new refugees every year, although the final figure could change.

An initial figure of 5,000 had been floated last month at the EU emergency summit, but was then dropped.

The refugees would be taken from places outside the EU, for instance, in UN-run camps in Turkey or Lebanon. Out of the nearly 4 million registered Syrian refugees, around 2.8 million are in Turkey and Lebanon alone.

With no legal routes available for asylum seekers to enter the EU, many opt to pay smugglers in Libya large sums of money to cross by boat.

Testimonies collected by Amnesty Intentional suggest extortion through torture and ill treatment at the hands of smugglers and prison officials is not uncommon.

“If you don’t pay, you don’t go out. The next morning, the head of the prison came to speak to us telling us that our family members needed to wire the money immediately to his brother in Ghana. Once he received the money, we would be set free,” one 17-year old boy from the Ivory Coast told Amnesty.

The upcoming summer months and calm seas are set to see many people embark from the Libyan coast to Europe. Already, this year alone, some 34,570 people attempted the perilous journey to Italy.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, the main countries of origin so far this year have been from Eritrea (5,388), Somalia (3,717), Nigeria (2,789), Gambia (2,099) and Syria (2,091).

For asylum seekers and migrants already in the EU, the commission’s plan is to set up a quota system for relocation to all member states.

The number of relocated migrants to be taken in by each state would depend on the member state’s population size, economic strength, unemployment level, and number of refugees already there.

"The commission will table legislation by the end of 2015 to provide for a mandatory and automatically-triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU when a mass influx emerges," notes the commission paper.

The plans would not be binding on the UK, Ireland, and Denmark.

But the quota system is unlikely to go down well with the United Kingdom.

The Guardian on Sunday reported the newly elected conservative government under David Cameron has no intention of agreeing to the commission’s quota and distribution plan.

“We will oppose any EU commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota,” a spokesperson told the paper.

Britain is instead pushing for an UN-backed resolution to “destroy the business model of the traffickers” by sinking the boats and rubber dinghies used to ferry migrants across the sea.

The UK’s Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark and its three Merlin helicopters are already at port in Malta.

The EU’s foreign chief Federica Mogherini, for her part, is set to discuss the military option at the United Nations in New York on Monday (11 May).

The 16-page European Agenda for Migration will be officially released on Wednesday (13 May).

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