Commission says EU asylum rules ‘dead as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones’

Kit Harington as a possibly dead Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. [HBO]

The migration crisis has left the European Union’s Dublin asylum rules as dead as Game of Thrones heartthrob Jon Snow, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has said.

Timmermans today (4 April) outed himself as a fan of HBO’s hit sex-and-swords fantasy series at a Brussels press conference to launch a series of reforms to the rules, including controversial plans to fine countries for not taking in refugees.

Nations will be fined €250,000 per refugee if they refuse to home refugees distributed throughout the bloc when a “fairness mechanism” is triggered.  Refusing a family of four would cost €1m euros.

The mechanism is triggered when a computer system gauges that one country is supporting a disproportionate number of asylum seekers – 150% more than its reference share.

The idea, which ranks countries based on their GDP, population, and resettlement efforts, was branded “blackmail” by Hungary shortly after it was announced.

Greece and Italy are likely to benefit from the proposed revisions to the system, which must be backed by the European Parliament and Council before becoming law.

Denmark, the UK and Ireland can pick whether or not to take part in the new rules because of their opt-outs on EU asylum rules.

Change needed

Changing the existing Dublin Regulation was vital, Timmermans said, because it was not designed to handle the huge number of refugees arriving in the EU from war-torn Syria and elsewhere.

The Dublin Regulation is EU law to determine which country is responsible for asylum seekers. Simply put, the rules insist that the country where an asylum seeker first applies is responsible for handling the claim.

But that system had collapsed under the pressure of the migration crisis and the unwillingness of member states to relocate refugees through the bloc, said Timmermans and Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos.

EU countries had promised to rehome 66,400 refugees who had successfully claimed asylum in Greece. Despite that vow only about 500 have been resettled.

Only 3% of Italy and Greece's migrants sent back or settled last year

Only 3% of the more than a million migrants arriving in Italy and Greece in 2015 were returned to their countries of origin or relocated across the EU as refugees,  figures released by the European Commission today (10 February) revealed.

“The old Dublin has died,” said Avramopoulos, “I would say it was killed by this unprecedented pressure. When Dublin was adopted the landscape was totally different to what we have today.”

Timmermans added, “I’m a Game of Thrones fan. This Dublin looks like Jon Snow stabbed on a table and dead for a couple of days…this reform is the essential thing we need to do to get Jon Snow off the table.”

Mystery surrounds whether Jon Snow, played by hunk Kit Harington, is actually dead or not. He appeared to be in an earlier season of the show but it may now be he has somehow survived.

Timmermans said, “I know there will always be member states that don’t like idea of sharing responsibilities and the automatic system but …Dublin is not working because member states were left on their own.

“The reason why to a certain extent Greece and Italy didn’t do what they were supposed to is that they were asking for help and they got no answer other than ‘Dublin’ – you need to handle it by yourself.”

Timmermans balked at suggestions that the €250,000 fine for non-relocation was a bribe or punishment. The Commission has called it a “solidarity payment”.

He said payments would only be made in “exceptional circumstances”.

The Dublin reforms would reward Italy and Greece for its efforts in handling the crisis, officials said.

Commission approves extending border checks at internal Schengen borders

The European Commission approved today (4 May) extending by six months controls at several
frontiers inside the free-travel Schengen area, saying checks were justified by deficiencies in Greece’s management of the bloc’s external border.

New EU agency

The Commission also unveiled plans to increase the power and status of the European Asylum Support Office into a fully-fledged EU Agency for Asylum. The bloc’s fingerprint data base will also be bolstered.

At the same time as the reforms were announced, the Commission announced that Turkey had made “spectacular progress” to reaching the 72 benchmarks needed for visa liberalisation.

That liberalisation was one of the conditions of the EU-Turkey deal to return Syrian refugees arriving by boat from the EU to Turkey.

Timmermans claimed the deal had “broken the business model” of people smugglers, reducing the number of daily arrivals by sea to hundreds rather than thousands.

Despite that, he said, Dublin reform was still needed, even though existing emergency measures would continue to be in place in the short to medium term.

“Look at what is happening in the Med, in Africa, and other places in the world, Timmermans said, “this [migration crisis] is going to be with us for a very long time.”

Commission admits visa-free travel for Turks depends on national parliaments

The European Commission today (4 May) proposed that Turkish nationals would enjoy visa-free travel to the EU’s Schengen zone by the end of June, praising Ankara for its fast delivery on meeting the necessary conditions. But Commission experts admit that national parliaments could upturn the deal.

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-communist members of the bloc, to share out 160,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU has courted Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

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