The EU just announced a new relocation plan — but the odds are already stacked against it
By Barbara Tasch
By Barbara Tasch
Migrants line up to receive personal hygiene goods distributed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), outside the main building of the disused Hellenikon airport where stranded refugees and migrants, most of them Afghans, are temporarily accommodated in Athens, Greece, May 3, 2016.
The European Commission announced a new plan on Wednesday to overhaul the bloc's current asylum system and introduce a new relocation plan to ease the burden of frontline countries like Greece and Italy.
Most of the refugees who have made their way to the European Union over the last years first reach the bloc in southern countries, where, under the Dublin agreement, they must claim asylum.
The new rules do not completely reject the Dublin agreement (asylum seekers should still apply for asylum in the first country they enter except if they have family somewhere else) but will aim to implement a "fairness mechanism" to stop some countries from being stuck with a disproportionate amount of migrants.
Although the refugee flow has slowed down in recent weeks, tens of thousands of migrants are currently stuck in Greece following the implementation of the EU Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route earlier this year, and thousands are still arriving in Italy.
The new plan aims to set up an automatic "corrective allocation mechanism" that will — based on a nation's size and wealth — determine when a country is receiving too many asylum applications. Once that point is reached, all future demands will be blocked and re-allocated to other countries. Those other countries will have the possibility to temporarily not take part but will then need to contribute €250,000 (£198,272 or $287,346) for each applicant it should have taken in.
The system will also take into account the number of people in need of protection a European country has taken in directly from a third country.
The other measures outlined by the commission promise to expedite the process of sending asylum seekers from one country to the other, to protect asylum seekers with stronger guarantees for unaccompanied minors and to try and to discourage "abuses and secondary movements" through clearer legal obligations for migrants.
It will also amend the Eurodac system (an EU asylum fingerprint database) to facilitate returning migrants as well as storing and searching for information on them. The UK and Ireland are not forced to participate in the relocation plan.
The plan is being met with resistance, especially in Eastern Europe and the state of the relocation scheme set up by the European Union last year does not bode well for the next one. Out of the 160,000 people that were supposed to be relocated, only 1,441 were moved, according to Reuters.
The new plan was already deemed to "make no sense" and violate member countries' rights, by the Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, Reuters reports.
Since the first deal, the mood surrounding asylum seekers in Europe has not improved. Anti-Muslim violence has increased throughout the continent, anti-immigration parties have made huge gains (especially in Germany), and anti-Islam movements have also gained traction in many countries.
The controversial Turkey-EU deal (which has curbed the number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe) does not appear very steady as of yet and is further strained by renewed fighting throughout Syria (which could send thousands more people toward Turkey) and an impending political crisis between Erdogan and his Prime Minister.
On Wednesday, the EU did conditionally back Turkey's visa-free travel — a big part of the deal — which should temporarily stabilise it.
The biggest opponents to the first relocation plan, Eastern European countries, are still not closer to agreeing to a pan-European plan, though.
Most of them claim the asylum seekers represent too much of a danger to their population as conducting background checks was nearly impossible due to the sheer number of people coming in — a fear that has been exacerbated following the Paris and Brussels attacks.
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, whose country was supposed to take in 400 people in 2016, went back on the commitment following the terrorist attacks in Brussels in which 30 people died.
"Our children and countries are in danger and we're all beginning to be afraid. Europe mustn't be afraid. We must say enough,"Szydlo said at a press conference in Warsaw in March, according to Politico. "We cannot... allow a situation to develop whereby the events that are now happening in Western Europe spread to Poland. Many such events have taken place in the past few months and we want to protect Polish citizens from that."
The Visegrad countries — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — are continuing to staunchly opposed the quota system proposed by the EU to distribute refugees, and many of them claim that Muslim immigrants would disrupt their society and would not be able to integrate.
The EU's aim to completely reform the common European asylum system will need backing from European governments and the European Parliament.
Back in September, Poland's President already blasted what he called the "dictate of the strong" in terms of European migrant policies, but it looks like the EU will have to resort to the same methods again.