Commission unveils asylum reform plans

“This is in the mutual interest of both EU citizens as well as the citizens of the United States,” Avramopoulos said. [European Commission]

The European Commission on Wednesday (6 April) launched its bid to reform the EU’s common asylum system, including a push for the automatic, mandatory relocation of refugees across Europe.

According to the Commission, the volume and concentration of arrivals of refugees over the past year has exposed the weaknesses of the current Dublin System, which determines where asylum applications should be made.

Dublin states that the member state responsible for examining an asylum application is the country of first point of irregular entry.

In 2015, more than a million migrants entered Europe. About half of them were Syrians fleeing war.

Today over 51,000 refugees and migrants, seeking to reach northern Europe, are stuck in Greece, after Balkan states sealed their borders. Hundreds more continue to land on the Greek islands every day.

Member states have further exacerbated the problem by encouraging “irregular secondary movements” – when refugees travel to another country from their first point of origin. Differing treatment of asylum seekers across the EU incentivised such movement, said the Commission.

The executive said it is considering two possible scenarios for the future of the EU’s Dublin regulation.

“It’s clear that the system, as it stands today, isn’t functioning. It’s not working. We need to share the responsibility, reduce ‘asylum shopping’ and sanction secondary movements,” Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

One option is that the principles underpinning Dublin should remain the same, with better implementation and assistance for those countries on the front line. This new system would be called ‘Dublin Plus’, said the Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and add “fairness” to the system.

The other scenario is a complete overhaul of the asylum system which would see automatic and mandatory redistribution of applicants around the EU.

“In this scenario, the responsibility will be decided from the very start and for every case from a basis of a distribution key. We are putting these options forward to launch a debate,” the First Vice-President added.

Smart borders and new asylum agency

If member states and the European Parliament choose to give the Commission a mandate to update the current asylum rules, the European Asylum Support Office will be given a new evaluation function, monitoring in which way the asylum rules are being applied and recommending measures to address shortcomings.

“The Commission would see a greater role for the agency in terms of intervention in crisis situations,” an EU source explained.

A new entry and exit system which automatically registers the name, type of travel document and biometrics will also be put forward. This would create “smarter borders” and replace the current system of manual stamping of passports.

The timing and the precise details of the asylum proposals are still not decided.

But member states will now be given the chance to discuss future asylum rules based on today’s communication and later on vote on the concrete proposals where a qualified majority is needed for adoption.

The proposals would also have to be debated and adopted by the European Parliament.

Timothy Kirkhope, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group's home affairs spokesman, said:

"The Dublin system stopped working because countries stopped applying the rules. The European Commission has proposed one way forward that is viable and another which is aspirational but frankly not going to happen. We need to show that we have learnt from the mistakes made by forcing through the emergency relocation mechanism. An effective Dublin system needs to ensure the integrity of the Schengen area whilst supporting the work of Frontex to deliver a stronger external border control."

Green migration spokesperson Jean Lambert said:

"The unravelling chaos in Greece and Turkey has underlined for the umpteenth time that a comprehensive European solution to the refugee crisis is needed, and this implies overhauling the dysfunctional EU framework on asylum law. All EU member states must accept their responsibility for the refugees arriving at EU borders, and not just for the borders themselves. Unfortunately, today's proposal from the Commission is piecemeal."

In May 2015, the Commission proposed a its first strategy to tackle the immediate challenges of the ongoing crisis situation, European Agenda on Migration, as well as to equip the EU with the tools to better manage migration in the medium and long term in the areas of irregular migration, borders, asylum and legal migration.

On Monday (4 April), Greece started the first migrant returns to Turkey under the terms of an EU deal that has worried aid groups. Athens struggles to manage the overload of desperate people on its soil. Under the scheme, one Syrian refugee will be settled in Europe legally in return for every asylum seeker returned to Turkey from Greece.

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