25 September 2015

On 22 September, the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) reached a decision to relocate thousands of people in clear need of international protection from Italy and Greece. The provisional measures foresee the relocation of 15,600 people from Italy, and 50,400 from Greece.

54,000 places that were initially marked for relocation out of Hungary will now either be proportionally divided between Italy and Greece, or if the situation changes in the next year and there is a need to adapt the relocation mechanism to different needs, the Commission may submit a proposal to amend the decision.

Despite Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voting against the proposals, the use of a qualified majority vote saw the proposals accepted. The figure of 120,000 is in addition to the decision to relocate 40,000 people that the JHA adopted earlier this month.

With over 400,000 arrivals into Europe by sea alone this year, organisations such as UNHCR have already warned that the relocation figure of 120,000 will be likely to require an upward revision in the future. In ECRE’s view, intra-EU relocation can be a useful tool to alleviate the pressure on the Member States of first arrival in the EU and a concrete expression of solidarity, as pointed out in ECRE’s Memorandum to the Council on 14 September.

“However, if relocation is to have any meaningful effect on the situation in countries such as Hungary, Italy and Greece, it will have to involve substantial numbers. In this regard, ECRE supports UNHCR’s call to increase relocation places to 200,000 for the three countries concerned as it corresponds with ECRE’s earlier call to increase the relocation effort to at least 70,000 places for Greece in particular. However, in light of the increasing trend in arrivals, ECRE urges EU institutions to provide for such relocation effort to be carried out within a year rather than over a two year period,” the Memorandum says.

A European Council summit was convened for the day after the JHA meeting with Europe’s leaders, where more help to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries in the region was agreed, with an additional one billion euro in humanitarian aid to be mobilised to help refugees in the region.

Amnesty International’s European Director, John Dalhuisen, showed disappointments with this week’s Council meetings. “What was needed was a bold, ambitious new approach. But what we got was the continuation of a failed strategy,” Dalhuisen said in a statement.

“The proposed €1 billion for refugee hosting countries is positive but beyond this, the commitments disappoint. EU leaders should have been agreeing on how to ensure safe and legal routes for refugees into Europe and fixing Europe’s failing asylum system. Instead, the focus of the proposals on keeping refugees out ignores the realities of a global refugee crisis and states’ obligations to provide protection to those unable to find it elsewhere,” he said.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 25 September 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.