Member states have relocated only a small fraction of the 160,000 asylum-seekers they committed to absorbing from Greece and Italy, the Commission admitted today (2 February).
The European Union is pushing to reduce immigration after an estimated 1.6 million refugees and migrants arrived in 2014-2016. It wants to prevent more from coming, and deport more.
EU heads of state and government committed to alleviating the burden from Italy by taking asylum-seekers under agreed quotas. Today the Commission published a paper explaining that member states have committed to relocating 98,255 by September 2017, not 160,000. This is because 7,745 from the first Council Decision on relocation have yet to be allocated and because 54,000 from the second Council Decision will be used for resettlement from outside the EU rather than relocation within the EU.
But even the slimmed-down target figure contrasts with the achievements. In one and a half years 13,546 relocations have been carried out so far, 3,936 from Italy and 9,610 from Greece. This represents 13.7% of the target, with only six months left until September.
In February 2016 only 3% of the agreed numbers of migrants to be resettled from Greece and Italy was attained.
So far, only two member states (Malta and Finland) are on track to meet their obligations for both Italy and Greece, whereas some (Hungary, Austria and Poland) are still refusing to participate in the scheme at all and others are doing so on a very limited basis (Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia).
France has relocated the largest number of applicants (2,758), followed by Germany (2,626) and the Netherlands (1,486).
Despite their recent efforts to accelerate relocation, Belgium, Germany and Spain have relocated only around 10% of their allocation so far.
“If member states do not increase their relocations soon, the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties for those who have not complied with the obligations stemming from the Council decisions, noting that the legal obligation to relocate those eligible will not cease after September,” the Juncker Commission said.
Conversely, progress on resettlement, which basically means sending asylum seekers outside EU territory, continues to be promising, according to the executive.
“Member states have provided safe and legal pathways to 14,422 persons so far, over half of the agreed 22,504 under the EU resettlement scheme. This includes the resettlement of 3,565 Syrians under the EU-Turkey Statement,” the Commission says.
The EU-Turkey deal comes with a price tag of €3 billion, which means that so far, the relocation of each Syrian from the Greek islands to Turkey has cost much more than any reasonable estimation.
Member states should detain migrants who have no case for asylum to prevent them from running away before they are deported, the chief migration official with the bloc’s executive arm in Brussels said today.
“Return rates have to be improved,” Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, presenting new proposals by the executive European Commission to increase deportations.
“Member states should also use the possibility to place migrants in detention if there is a risk of absconding and for a sufficient period to be able to complete the return and readmission procedure.”
The European Commission said the proposals identified areas in which EU countries could change their current practices to streamline relocations in line with existing laws which are applied differently in various countries.
The Commission said that member states should consider longer periods of detention of up to 18 months, although Avramopoulos added that it should only be an option in cases where “migrants are not cooperating” or “there is risk of absconding”.
“But it should never be considered something like a concentration camp,” he said.