The European Union looks set to break its promise to relocate 160,000 refugees across the bloc from Greece and Italy by September 2017, after figures released today (28 September) revealed that just 5,651 asylum seekers were re-homed in the year since the pledge was made.
To meet the refugee sharing commitment, made to lessen the burden on Italy and Greece, member states will have to take in a further 154,349 people by September 2017.
Italy and Greece have borne the brunt of the worst refugee crisis witnessed in Europe since the Second World War. 4,455 refugees were relocated from Greece and 1,196 from Italy.
The crisis has exposed deep divisions in the bloc and seen the reintroduction of border controls in the passport-free Schengen zone in a bid to stop refugees travelling through Europe on their way to Germany after landing in Greece and Italy.
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, “We can only effectively manage asylum and migration in Europe, and preserve the Schengen area, if we all work together in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility.”
Hungary, for example, plans an October referendum on EU migration policy, which insists on sharing out the numbers of asylum seekers entering the bloc. The UK has an opt-out on EU asylum policy and is not participating in the relocation scheme.
The European Commission today said that member states had resettle 1,200 asylum seekers this month.
Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, “The increased efforts made by Member States over the past months on relocation…demonstrate that relocation can be speeded up if there is political will and a sense of responsibility.
“The success of our common approach over the last months is essential for the success of everything else, including a gradual return to the Dublin system and a normal functioning of Schengen. Relocation has to succeed.”
The Dublin system insists that any asylum seeker claims asylum in the first EU country he or she arrives in. That rule was effectively ignored at the height of the crisis, when Germany over a million migrants.
Under the emergency relocation scheme, asylum seekers with a high chance of approval, are moved from Greece or Italy to other member states where their applications are processed. Those countries receive money from the EU budget.
France has taken in the lion’s share of refugees from Greece, relocating 1,721, and a further 231 from Italy. The Netherlands has taken in a combined total of 726 refugees, and Finland 690.
Austria, Hungary, and Poland have not taken in any refugees in the year since the scheme was launched on the instructions of EU leaders at the European Council.
“With the increased capacity of the Greek Asylum Service, and if member states step up their efforts, it should notably be possible to relocate the remaining relocation candidates present in Greece (around 30,000) within the next year,” the Commission said in a report.
The Commission today also published figures on the progress of the European Resettlement Scheme, backed by the Council ion July 2015.
The scheme resettles refugees in camps in countries outside of the EU such as Lebanon or Turkey to EU nations. It aims to resettle 22,000 people over two years.
So far 10,695 refugees have been resettled. The UK has resettled the most, taking in 2,200 directly from camps outside the EU.
That target includes Syrian nationals resettled in the EU from Turkish camps as part of the bloc’s controversial ‘migrant swap’ deal with Ankara.
Under the terms of the 18 March pact, it was agreed that one Syrian refugee in Turkey would be resettled for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands after illegally crossing the Aegean Sea.
Supporters argue the plan discourages dangerous sea crossing, replacing them with orderly legal routes of migration. But critics say the plan skirts around the fringes of international law.
Timmermans said, “I welcome the efforts of member states to increase relocation and resettlement. However, those who can do more should do so urgently.”