29 May 2015

On Wednesday 27 May 2015, the European Commission presented its proposal for a Council Decision that would allow for the relocation of 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU member states over a period of 24 months.

The high migratory pressure that has confronted Italy and Greece, along with the structural shortcomings in their asylum systems, prompted the Commission to design such a mechanism to ensure member state support the two countries at stake. Through a temporary derogation from the Dublin III Regulation, the Commission proposes to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers that Italy or Greece would be responsible for under the Dublin system, to other member states that will be processing their claims.  

The Commission proposal targets Syrians and Eritreans as, according to Eurostat, those nationalities received an EU average recognition rate of 75% in 2014. The Commission proposes to relocate respectively 24,000 asylum seekers from Italy and 16,000 from Greece, over a period of 24 months. The Commission has calculated the allocation number for each member state on the basis of population, GDP, unemployment rate and number of asylum applications received. The Commission’s proposal specifies that family members should be relocated to the same country, and emphasises the obligation to give primary consideration to the best interest of the child when unaccompanied minors would be involved in the relocation procedure. In addition, applicants should receive information about the relocation procedure and be notified when a relocation decision is taken. Furthermore, the Commission’s plan specifies that member states would receive a lump sum of 6,000 euro for each applicant relocated from Italy and Greece. The plan, as proposed by the Commission, would be mandatory for EU Member States, although the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark can opt not to be part of it.

ECRE acknowledges that such a mechanism could offer some concrete support to Italy and Greece, and is a first step to show concrete solidarity with both countries. Furthermore, it is positive that it also includes the obligation for Italy and Greece to take the necessary measures to improve their asylum systems, and that particular vulnerabilities of applicants need to be taken into account before relocating them. At the same time, ‘refugee rights’ organisations have criticised the fact that asylum seekers have no say in relation to the country where they would be relocated, whilst important differences remain across the EU with regard to reception conditions, the type of protection status granted and integration perspectives. “I think it’s ignoring the reality today for some of these people – for example, a Syrian engineer or doctor having to stay in Latvia or Lithuania where there’s hardly any other refugees, no real asylum system in place and no integration programmes for them,” ECRE Senior Legal and Policy Officer Kris Pollet told IRIN News.

In the meantime, several member states have expressed their criticism in relation to the criteria chosen by the Commission to relocate asylum seekers. “Countries like Spain say unemployment rates should weigh more in the calculations; other countries say you have to take into account other efforts states are taking in regards to border control. So it looks like there’s already going to be a discussion about the fundamentals,” stated Pollet.

In addition to this relocation mechanism, Home Affairs and Migration Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said on Wednesday that the Commission will expand the geographical operation area of Triton to the same as that of the Italian Mare Nostrum Operation and increase its resources. “In practice, this means more assets at sea, closer to where most refugees and migrants, travelling on overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, get into trouble and risk drowning. And ultimately more lives will be saved,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 29 May 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.