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09/12/2016

EU countries must share responsibility for refugees, Sweden insists

Justice & Home Affairs

EU countries must share responsibility for refugees, Sweden insists

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The Swedish minister for migration, Tobias Billström, has urged the European Commission to act against countries that do not follow EU rules when it comes to shared responsibility for accepting refugees.

90% of asylum seekers in the EU are currently dealt with by only nine countries, but they are now tired of this situation, the Swedish minister has said, according to the TV station SVT.

Out of the 80,000 Syrians who have until now sought protection in Europe, more than 50,000 have gone to Sweden and Germany alone.

Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner for home affairs, is currently investigating migration-related violations in 12 EU member states and is threatening to take the offenders to court unless there are improvements.

Greece and Italy are the main gateways for migrants into the EU, but the people fleeing oppression or poverty rarely seek asylum there and usually head straight north.

According to European Commission data, 20,000 Syrians have crossed the borders of Greece and Italy last year, but only 1,100 have sought asylum in those two countries.

For Sweden, which has seen a growing influx of asylum seekers, the main challenges are to provide child care, education and housing for the asylum seekers.

Billström told the Wall Street Journal that he did not buy the argument from Italy and Greece that the financial crisis was preventing them from processing and accepting more refugees.

"Let's not forget that a country like Italy is a G20 country," he said.

European countries have debated ways to "share the burden" of asylum seekers for more than 20 years without making much difference on the ground.

The EU’s 28 heads of states and government expressed “deep sadness” after the Lampedusa tragedy, which saw hundreds of African migrants lose their lives in October as they tried to reach the small Italian island, which acts as a gateway for asylum seekers trying to enter Europe.

French President François Hollande said the EU’s agreed approach was based on three principles: acting on countries of origin and transit, strengthening border controls and fighting against human traffickers.

Background

Greece has already made it a point to push for a single asylum system and more coordinated management of illegal migration flows into Europe during its six-month EU presidency.

In recent months, hundreds of people have died trying to reach European shores. Last October, 356 African immigrants drowned when their boat capsized shortly before reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa, near Sicily.

Experts say the issue is not only humanitarian. It is also an economic and political problem in the run-up to the European elections in May, which is already seeing far-right parties promoting an anti-immigration platform in their electoral campaigns.

Further Reading