17 September 2015

On 14 September, the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) adopted a decision for the relocation of 40,000 people seeking international protection from Italy and Greece, but failed to agree on the wider proposed target of 120,000 people. The decision includes the establishment of ‘hotspots’ to register and temporary accommodate asylum seekers, until a decision on their status is taken ‘quickly’. This does not exclude the use of detention, if necessary, with the ultimate aim to expel those receiving a negative decision on their claim.

“In principle the hotspots proposal could help manage the situation, but it all depends on the conditions, treatment, procedures in place, and on relocation commitments,” stated Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Otherwise detaining asylum seekers until an EU government agrees to take them could lead to mass prolonged detention.”

A strong accent is put on effective return of asylum seekers whose application is refused, including detention measures to apply ‘urgently and effectively’, according to the Return Directive. For this purpose, ministers undertook measures to better ensure the swift return of irregular migrants, by a more efficient use of the Schengen Information System (SIS).

JHA ministers welcomed the proposals launched by the European Commission last week. However, Member States failed to agree on all the proposals, notably on the relocation of a further 120,000 asylum seekers from those Member States receiving significant arrivals. .Moreover, Member States highlighted that the implementation of the decision will require flexibility. These proposals, together with the EU Action plan on return and the “Return Handbook”, will be further discussed at an extraordinary JHA meeting on 22 September.

Furthermore, JHA ministers agreed to develop asylum system capacities in ‘third countries’, relating to those regions affected, including safe and sustainable reception, as well as adequate procedures for refugees. In concordance with the principle of non-refoulement, EU Member States are only allowed to return asylum seekers to their country of origin if it is considered ‘safe’. The Council will present a position on a common European Union list of safe countries of origin, which, on the basis of the Conclusions of July 2015, will certainly include Western Balkans.

Additionally, the Council’s Conclusions included measures to reinforce controls at external borders.  Accordingly, Member States will reinforce TRITON and POSEIDON operations under Frontex, which is tasked to urgently deploy Rapid Intervention Teams. The EUNAVFOR military operation will also be stepped up, to seize and destroy smugglers’ vessels.

It is shameful that some of the richest countries in the world cannot stand together and help those fleeing war and persecution in Syria and elsewhere”, commented Claude Moraes, President of the LIBE Committee, “it is evident that the numbers agreed on so far are not sufficient to deal with the growing number of people in need of protection”, he added.

During a Plenary Session of the European Parliament convened on Wednesday to debate the outcomes of Monday’s JHA Council meeting, many MEPs deplored the Council Conclusions and called for a stronger and more united Europe to deal with the current refugee inflow. The Session called for an urgent Parliament vote on the proposal to relocate 120,000 refugees from the most affected countries.  

The vote held on Thursday backed the Council’s proposal to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from frontline countries. “Parliament’s backing in record time of the European Commission’s 9 September proposal to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers sends a clear signal to EU home affairs ministers, who meet again on Tuesday 22 September, that it is high time to act and finally agree on this second emergency scheme”, states the press release

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 18 September 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.