26 June 2015

At the European Council meeting in Brussels on 25-26 June, European leaders agreed on a voluntary plan to relocate a total of 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States. Hungary and Bulgaria were excluded from the relocation scheme proposed. In addition, 20,000 refugees will be resettled to Member States.

The agreement was sealed in the early hours on Friday after long and difficult negotiations on how to handle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

“Given the extent of the problem, (…) this is a modest effort. And it took us hours to reach an agreement – this serves to demonstrate that Europe isn’t necessarily always able to live up to its ambitious goals which it expresses to the outside world. But the Council was at least able to agree on the fate of this 60,000 people,” stated European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference.

“It’s not a big number. For Italy, it’s a small help, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” stated Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

 “Whilst the implementation of EU plans for relocation of migrants may take some pressure off the Greek and Italian islands in the short term, what is needed are more safe and legal routes into Europe for refugees. This includes more resettlement places together with significantly enhanced financial and operational support for reception and asylum processing and the provision of greater freedom of movement for successful asylum seekers,” stated John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, an ECRE member.

“With global displacement at an all-time high, it’s frustrating to see EU government foot-dragging over the European Commission’s modest proposals on resettlement and sharing of responsibility,” said Judith Sunderland, Senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

During the press conference, EU Council President Donald Tusk, stressed that EU leaders had reached a consensus on EU’s return policy. “Migrants with no legal right to enter the EU must be returned. (…) Today, leaders have agreed to accelerate readmission negotiations with the third countries and to fully implement EU rules on returns. (…) Frontex will get more powers to help with the illegal migrants”, stated EU Council President Donald Tusk. The Commission will be proposing an amendment to the Frontex Regulation to allow the Agency to “initiate return missions”.

According to the EU Council conclusions, reception and first reception facilities in the frontline Member States are to be set up, “with the active support of Member States’ experts and of EASO, Frontex and Europol to ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants (“hotspots”)”.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.