EU still seeking June deal on refugee plan, says bloc’s migration chief

The EU is still seeking an agreement on refugee and asylum policy. [Freedom House]

The EU is still hoping to convince Hungary and Poland to sign up to an elusive agreement on migration and refugee resettlement, the bloc’s Migration commissioner said on Wednesday (16 May).

Dimitris Avramopoulos was speaking as he unveiled an overhaul of the Visa Information Service database containing information on people applying for Schengen visas.

The Commission will make another attempt to get EU leaders to agree on the overhaul of the bloc’s ‘Dublin regulation’, which sets out its common migration and asylum rules, at an EU summit in Brussels on 28-29 June.

The latest proposal tabled by the Bulgarian presidency would allow reluctant countries to handpick refugees or pay another country €30,000 for each person that they refuse to take, as a compromise.

The migration crisis has exposed a deep fault-line between predominantly Southern Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, the main arrivals points for migrants, and eastern European countries which oppose burden sharing between EU countries.

The EU was forced to abandon refugee quotas last autumn after member states resettled a mere 28,000 refugees, far short of the 160,000 target.

A breakthrough remains unlikely. Poland and Hungary are vocally opposed to any EU quotas on refugees, while five South Mediterranean countries – Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta – complain that the new proposal still places an overly heavy burden on recipient countries.

Avramopoulos said he was “trying to convince the last remaining ones to join our comprehensive migration policy”, which he described as “the only pragmatic answer to a real problem we are confronted with.”

“There are three or four countries that have different ideas”, he added.

The Commission has earmarked €35 billion for border and migration control in its proposed seven-year budget framework covering 2021-2027, a near threefold increase on current spending.

”More details on that will follow in the future,” Avramopoulos told reporters, adding that the Commission wanted to “expand, enhance and beef up the European borders and coast guard in the future, and have a fully integrated EU border management system, with a standing force of 10,000 border guards.”

The number of migrants attempting to reach Europe appears to have subsided this year, and that could further limit any momentum towards a pan-EU pact.

The International Organisation for Migration data (IOM) reported that almost 19,000 people arrived in Europe between January and April this year compared to around 44,600 in 2017. Those figures compare with over 870,000 arrivals in 2015, at the height of the crisis.

However, almost 3,000 people entered Greece via the Turkish border last month, most of them coming from war-ravaged Syria and Iraq, marking a slight monthly increase.

“We have seen some increases at the Greek/Turkish land borders,” acknowledged Avramopoulos, although he added that “I have an open number to ministers in Greece and Turkey… the situation is under control.”

Meanwhile, mobilisation of the now-delayed €3bn payment to Turkey as part of the migration control pact between Brussels and Ankara should be made “swiftly”, he said.

The EU-Turkey agreement “works”, said Avramopoulos. “It delivers. It is beneficial for the European Union and Turkey as well”.

He added that the EU would continue to broker similar agreements and alliances with other regions and dismissed the idea of using physical barriers at borders.

“We are against building fences, on the contrary, we are in favour of building bridges with neighbouring countries,” he said.

“The EU will never be a fortress. Migration will stay not only in Europe and the world for the decades to come, and we have to be well prepared. No country can manage this situation alone.”

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