30 June 2015. Heated discussions at the European Council meeting of 25 June following up on recent Commission proposals on the relocation of 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, and the resettlement of 20,000 refugees from regions outside of the EU, produced overall disappointing results. Member States continue to close their eyes to the reality of the emergency situation that exists today in Italy and Greece and the refugee crisis in regions outside Europe.
The commitment to relocate 40,000 persons from Italy and Greece over a period of two years is now framed as a relocation mechanism functioning on a voluntary basis as the proposed Council Decision will have to be adopted by “consensus” of all Member States and “in line with its April decision in all its regards”. The failure of EU leaders to politically back the proposal for a mandatory mechanism of relocating a modest number of persons in clear need of international protection is symbolic of the state of the EU’s common asylum policy today, which is currently characterised by a breakdown of trust between Member States, an obsession with security and so-called “abuse of the asylum system” and the lack of a shared vision on protection that is based on solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility.
In this regard, ECRE is concerned with the hotspot concept intended to “ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants” and to “determine those who need international protection and those who do not.” The European Council Conclusions translate this into the setting up of reception and first reception facilities in frontline Member States but do not specify whether these centres would be closed or open facilities. A recent letter of Commissioner Avramopoulos to the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, however, leaves little to the imagination. He writes: “during and after the process of identification, to make sure that irregular migrants are effectively returned, detention should be applied, as a legitimate measure of last resort, where it is necessary to avoid that the irregular migrants abscond.” ECRE fears increased detention will become the norm.
Also, the recent Commission Staff Working Document providing “guidance” to Member States on how to enforce their obligation to obtain fingerprints under the Eurodac Regulation tries to legitimise the use of detention and even physical coercion on asylum seekers or migrants for that purpose, and is another illustration of how a security-driven agenda risks undermining respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. ECRE seriously questions whether the necessity and proportionality of detention and the use of force to obtain fingerprints can be established under a strict reading of the EU asylum and migration acquis.
Thus, it is crucial that further discussions on the Commission proposal on relocation and the flanking measures announced in the European Agenda on Migration put a proper emphasis on enhancing access to international protection in the EU. Otherwise, what began as a laudable attempt to respond to the emergency situation in the Mediterranean could quickly turn into a security and return driven approach that undermines rather than protects the human rights of those reaching the EU’s external borders.
Finally, the commitment to resettle a mere 20,000 refugees is simply inadequate in the current environment. ECRE calls on Member States to make this offer at least on top of their resettlement quotas and encourages Member States to utilise as well other legal avenues available for people in need of international protection, such as more effective use of family reunification procedures.
“Europe needs to return to basics and remember its core values in providing protection and real solidarity with the millions of refugees and displaced persons in regions outside the EU and the countries hosting the vast majority of them”, Michael Diedring, ECRE Secretary General, remarked. “To Europe’s credit, rescue of people in the Mediterranean Sea is now being given the priority it deserves. Europe can still do justice to its history and act as a global actor protecting humanity and dignity in other respects of protection, but not with the lack of leadership and compassion shown by the Council on 25 June. Europe needs to step forward and engage; those women, children and men fleeing war and persecution will come to Europe seeking safety and the protection of their human rights.”
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The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a pan-European alliance of 87 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.