13 March 2015

This week UNHCR has proposed a pilot project for the relocation to different countries across Europe of Syrian refugees who were rescued at sea and disembarked in Greece and Italy.

UNHCR proposes that the relocation of recognised refugees from Syria should be based on the voluntary participation of Member States, accompanied by emergency support measures to countries such as Italy and Greece to help them to adequately receive asylum seekers and process their applications.

According to UNHCR, the project would: encourage Syrians to apply for asylum in Greece and Italy; address the security constraints of several Member States around the movement of people who have not been identified; contribute to reducing exploitation of people moving on irregularly within the EU. The UN Refugee Agency notes that, although 32% of the people who arrived by sea in the EU in 2014 were Syrians (69,000), very few applied for asylum in Italy and Greece.

The Dublin Regulation identifies which state is responsible for examining asylum claims in the EU. UNHCR has also called on Member States to use the potential of the regulation to bring families together and show solidarity towards countries that are facing particular pressures. For instance, through a flexible use of the discretionary clauses of the Dublin Regulation, some asylum seekers likely to be granted international protection could be granted visas to travel regularly to another Member State that has agreed to examine their applications. Furthermore, UNHCR invites Member States to consider a commitment to admit a certain number of asylum seekers under this provision.    

“When I see a Syrian arrive in Italy who has relatives in the Netherlands who are not close enough to be eligible for reunion under the Family Directive, for example an 18-year-old with a brother in the Netherlands, the choice for policymakers is that he either moves illegally or legally. The person is going to move”, Vincent Cochetel, Director of the UNHCR’s Europe bureau, told The Guardian

In addition, UNHCR has reiterated its call for the EU to establish a robust European search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, similar to the Italian Mare Nostrum operation that came to an end in 2014, or to fund Italy to resume an effective search and rescue operation. The UN Agency also recommends the establishment of schemes to compensate shipping companies for losses incurred while rescuing people at sea.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.