EU lawmakers Tuesday (28 April) demanded the bloc share the burden of accepting asylum seekers, as the pressure on southern European countries from migrants crossing the Mediterranean showed no sign of easing.
EU leaders agreed at an emergency summit last week to boost funding and resources for search and rescue missions but Britain, speaking for many, said it would not take in any migrants picked up at sea for asylum processing.
The summit followed the worst migrant disaster in the Mediterranean, with hundreds dead after their rickety boat sank between Libya and southern Italy, sparking global outrage and demands for action.
“The Dublin II rules are not adequate. They must be changed so as to spread the burden of asylum seekers across the EU,” said Manfred Weber, head of the European People’s Party, the largest in the European Parliament.
The European Union’s Dublin II protocol requires that the member state which first takes in an asylum seeker must then process their request on its soil and take responsibility for returning home those denied admission (see background).
The last attempt to change the rules, in 2013, failed when 24 of the 28 EU member states voted against, with only Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece — those now bearing the brunt of the migrant influx — in favour. The situation hasn’t changed since.
“The guidelines for this more equitable sharing regime need to be determined but they will take account of the size of the country involved, its economy, the number of refugees already accepted,” Weber told a press briefing.
“We need to go beyond Dublin II. We cannot let one country, in this case Italy, bear all the burden…. There will have to be compulsory quotas,” he said, touching on one of the most sensitive issues.
Alliance of Liberal Democrats leader Guy Verhofstadt said last week’s summit had been “very disappointing,” pressing for a greater EU commitment to resolving the problem.
EU leaders announced that they would triple monthly funding from €3.0 million to €9 million for the Triton search and rescue mission operating off southern Italy.
However, this only restored assistance to what it was under Italy’s Mare Nostrum mission which Rome halted late last year when its EU peers said it was too expensive and they would not continue funding.
The summit also agreed to look at limited military options, including destroying people smuggler boats, but this would only be done under a UN Security Council resolution — which may prove very difficult to obtain given the current poor state of EU relations with Russia.
A proposal for EU member states to provide migrant resettlement for 5,000 on a voluntary basis proved contentious, with the figure being dropped in the concluding statement.
Most MEPs are in favour of doing more for asylum seekers and will debate a resolution today (29 April), hoping to put more pressure on the European Commission as it prepares to present a new immigration policy on 13 May.
Some 1,750 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean to Europe this year, 30 times more than during the same period in 2014, and it is feared the death toll will continue to rise over the year.
The Dublin II regulation of 2003 stablishes the principle that only one Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. The objective is to avoid asylum seekers from being sent from one country to another, and also to prevent abuse of the system by the submission of several applications for asylum by one person.
This regulation puts a burden on “front-line” countries which receive the largest number of asylum seekers coming by sea such as Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece, and by land such as Bulgaria.
Typically, asylum seekers who lodge an application in one of those countries leave them in an attempt to establish themselves in countries like the UK, Germany, Sweden, France.