The European Commission’s proposal for the emergency relocation of 120 000 refugees from Greece, Hungary and Italy would see 1600 transferred to Bulgaria.
The emergency relocation proposal for the transfer from Greece, Hungary and Italy of 120 000 persons in clear need of protection was announced by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his “State of the Union” speech in the European Parliament on September 9 2015.
Of the total proposed to be transferred to Bulgaria, 208 would be moved from Italy, 672 from Greece and 720 from Hungary.
The relocation mechanism will only apply to those nationals who have an average EU-wide asylum recognition rate equal to or higher than 75 per cent, on the basis of Eurostat data for the previous quarter. For 2014, two nationalities had a recognition rate above 75 per cent: Syrians and Eritreans.
According to the latest quarterly data in 2015, the 75 per cent threshold is now passed by Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis. The nationalities falling within the threshold will be updated quarterly on the basis of Eurostat figures.
The comprehensive package of responses to the migrant crisis in Europe, presented by the European Commission on September 9, includes:
An emergency relocation proposal for 120 000 persons in clear need of protection from Greece, Hungary and Italy;
A permanent crisis relocation mechanism for all EU member states;
A common European list of Safe Countries of Origin;
Making return policy more effective through a common Return Handbook and an EU Action Plan on Return;
A Communication on Public Procurement rules for Refugee Support Measures;
A Communication on addressing the external dimension of the refugee crisis;
An Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.
The Commission proposes to relocate 120,000 people in clear need of international protection from Italy (15 600), Greece (50 400) andHungary (54 000).
The Commission said that the relocation would be done according to a mandatory distribution key using objective and quantifiable criteria (40 per cent of the size of the population, 40 per cent of the GDP, 10 per cent of the average number of past asylum applications, 10 per cent of the unemployment rate).
It applies to nationalities of applicants with an EU-wide average recognition rate of 75 per cent or higher. This comes in addition to the Commission’s proposal from May to relocate 40 000 people in clear need of international protection from Italy and Greece to other EU member states, thus bringing the total proposed number up to 160 000.
The EU budget will provide dedicated funding of 780 million euro to support this scheme. Beneficiary member states will get 6000 euro for each relocated person, including a 50 per cent pre-financing rate to ensure that national authorities have means to act very swiftly. Italy, Greece and Hungary will receive 500 euro for each person relocated, to cover transport costs.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania have opposed the idea of mandatory quotas.
Addressing MEPs, Juncker said, “the first priority today is and must be addressing the refugee crisis”.
Juncker said that since the beginning of 2015, nearly 500 000 people had made their way to Europe. The vast majority of them are fleeing from war in Syria, the terror of the Islamic State in Libya or dictatorship in Eritrea. The most affected Member States are Greece, with over 213 000 refugees, Hungary, with over 145 000, and Italy, with over 115 000.
“The numbers are impressive. For some they are frightening,” Juncker said.
“But now is not the time to take fright. It is time for bold, determined and concerted action by the European Union, by its institutions and by all its member states.
This is first of all a matter of humanity and of human dignity. And for Europe it is also a matter of historical fairness,” he said.
“We Europeans should remember well that Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has at one time been a refugee. Our common history is marked by millions of Europeans fleeing from religious or political persecution, from war, dictatorship, or oppression.”
Juncker said that it was high time to act to manage the refugee crisis. “There is no alternative to this.”
He said that here had been a lot finger pointing in the past weeks.
“Member states have accused each other of not doing enough or of doing the wrong thing. And more often than not fingers have been pointed from national capitals towards Brussels.
“We could all be angry about this blame-game. But I wonder who that would serve. Being angry does not help anyone. And the attempt of blaming others is often just a sign that politicians are overwhelmed by unexpected events.”
He called on EU countries to adopt the Commission proposals on the emergency relocation of altogether 160 000 refugees at the Extraordinary Council of Interior Ministers on September 14.
“We now need immediate action. We cannot leave Italy, Greece and Hungary to fare alone. Just as we would not leave any other EU Member State alone. For if it is Syria and Libya people are fleeing from today, it could just as easily be Ukraine tomorrow.
“Europe has made make the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims. There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees.”
Juncker said that relocation alone will not solve the issue.
“It is true that we also need to separate better those who are in clear need of international protection and are therefore very likely to apply for asylum successfully; and those who are leaving their country for other reasons which do not fall under the right of asylum.”
This is why the Commission was proposing a common EU list of safe countries of origin. This list will enable member states to fast track asylum procedures for nationals of countries that are presumed safe to live in, Juncker said.
A common refugee and asylum policy requires further approximation of asylum policies after refugee status is granted. Member states needed to take a second look at their support, integration and inclusion policies.
“The Commission is ready to look into how EU Funds can support these efforts. And I am strongly in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work and earn their own money while their applications are being processed,” he said.
A united refugee and asylum policy also requires stronger joint efforts to secure the EU’s external borders.
“Fortunately, we have given up border controls between the Member States of the Schengen area, to guarantee free movement of people, a unique symbol of European integration. But the other side of the coin to free movement is that we must work together more closely to manage our external borders.”
Juncker said that the EU needed to strengthen Frontex significantly and develop it into a fully operational European border and coast guard system.
“It is certainly feasible. But it will cost money. The Commission believes this is money well invested. This is why we will propose ambitious steps towards a European Border and Coast Guard before the end of the year.”
A truly united, European migration policy also meant that the EU needed to look into opening legal channels for migration.
“Let us be clear: this will not help in addressing the current refugee crisis. But if there are more, safe and controlled roads opened to Europe, we can manage migration better and make the illegal work of human traffickers less attractive.
“Let us not forget, we are an ageing continent in demographic decline. We will be needing talent. Over time, migration must change from a problem to be tackled to a well-managed resource. To this end,the Commission will come forward with a well-designed legal migration package in early 2016,” Juncker said.
He said that a lasting solution “will only come if we address the root causes, the reasons why we are currently facing this important refugee crisis.
“Our European foreign policy must be more assertive. We can no longer afford to be ignorant or disunited with regard to war or instability right in our neighbourhood.”
Juncker called for a European diplomatic offensive to address the crises in Syria and in Libya. “We need a stronger Europe when it comes to foreign policy”.
The Commission proposed the establishment of an an emergency Trust Fund, starting with 1.8 billion euro to address the crises in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, the Horn of Africa, and the North of Africa.
“We want to help create lasting stability, for instance by creating employment opportunities in local communities, and thereby address the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and illegal migration. I expect all EU member states to pitch in and match our ambitions,” Juncker said.
“I do not want to create any illusions that the refugee crisis will be over any time soon. It will not. But pushing back boats from piers, setting fire to refugee camps, or turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people: that is not Europe,” Juncker said.
(Photo: UNHCR/S. Baltagiannis)