29 October 2015

An emergency meeting was called by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, which took place on 25 October, to agree on concrete, immediate measures to respond to the unprecedented increase in refugees and migrants along the Western Balkans route from Greece to Germany.

The measures included in the 17 Point Plan became operational the following day and focus on information exchange, discouraging  refugees and migrants from travelling onwards to another country, supporting them by providing shelter, increased cooperation to manage the movement of people, border management and stepping up action against smuggling and trafficking. The Leaders’ Statement emphasises that all countries should respect their responsibilities and obligations under international law and treat refugees and migrants in a humane manner. They underline the importance of solidarity and cooperation rather than unilateral action.

In the press conference following the meeting, Juncker stated that the immediate imperative was to provide shelter as “it cannot be that in the Europe of 2015, people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields and wading chest-deep through rivers in freezing temperatures.” As such, leaders should commit to increasing their capacity to provide shelter, rest, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need and ensure sufficient temporary accommodation along the Western Balkan route. Greece announced that it would increase its reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year, with UNHCR funding another 20,000 places. A further 50,000 places will be established along the route with the support of UNHCR.

They agreed to strengthen their ability to register arrivals at the point of first entry into the EU and exchange information on the size, movement flows and presence of vulnerable groups within their territory. Frontex will assist with registration, fingerprinting and monitoring and 400 police officers are to be deployed to Slovenia this week to assist with border control.

Human Rights Watch have welcomed certain aspects of the plan but have emphasised the importance for “governments to carry out this plan in ways that put saving lives and protecting people as the highest priority and protecting borders and sovereignty second”, given its potential to divert asylum seekers and block them from getting protection.

The Council of the EU called an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs’ Council meeting on 9 November in Brussels, aimed at reinforcing the European response to the implementation of measures decided so far and to potentially decide new measures.

The European Parliament discussed the outcome of the meeting at its plenary session on 27 October, with Martin Schulz commenting that “promises are made and not delivered upon… what suffers are the refugees and the cohesion of the European Union”. On the same day, the Commission reported on the progress of the plan of action, informing that all leaders had nominated contact points to monitor its implementation, Croatia had activated the EU’s civil protection mechanism for material support to help cope with the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers and emergency funding had been granted to Greece to support it.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.