European officials have finalised plans to create a common EU asylum system and refugee resettlement scheme, which advocates portray as the solution to the European migration crisis but which critics believe will be a further betrayal of refugee rights.
Officials have proposed creating a semi-standardised system that would allow asylum seekers to expect similar treatment in whichever country they settle. The arrival of more than 1 million people in Europe in 2015 exposed differences between the continent’s different asylum procedures.
It is hoped that the proposed system would discourage the kind of country-hopping that saw hundreds of thousands of refugees settle in Germany last year having passed through other European countries such as Hungary and Greece.
The plans also include the establishment of a common European policy on refugee resettlement. The policy’s proposers say it could allow Europe to resettle thousands of refugees through legal means, and so discourage the unusually high levels of irregular migration seen in 2015.
Commenting on the resettlement scheme, the EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: “Today’s proposal is a major step in our efforts to offer legal avenues to allow persons in need to enter the EU safely and receive protection. It is an integral part of the larger objective of ensuring that protection is offered to those who need it, reducing the incentives for irregular migration, and protecting migrants from exploitation by smuggling networks and dangerous journeys to reach Europe.”
But other European officials and rights campaigners criticised the proposals, which they said would in reality lead to fewer refugees being given sanctuary in Europe.
Under the plan, refugees will only be formally resettled in Europe from third countries that agree to readmit migrants who arrived in Europe by informal means.
Additionally, the plans make it easier for refugees to be expelled from Europe in the first place. Brussels would be given greater say over which countries are deemed safe for refugees – overriding the wishes of independent appeals boards in nation states. In the current context, this would theoretically allow the EU to expel more people from Greece to Turkey, despite Greek officials deeming Turkey unsafe for some refugees.
Expanding on these criticisms, John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said: “The proposals the commission published today are not about improving refugee protection globally, but about reducing irregular arrivals to Europe. They take good tools, like resettlement, and put them to bad ends; they use fine words, but these mask some pretty cynical intentions.”
Dalhuisen added: “What the commission is really trying to do with these proposals is resettle some refugees so they can return more. In the absence of any mention of the need to significantly increase resettlement numbers and heavily invest in conditions for refugees in third countries, the net impact of these proposals for refugee protection globally is very likely to be negative.”
Malin Björk, the European parliament’s rapporteur on the proposal, called it “disgraceful”. The Swedish politician said: “As the parliament’s rapporteur, I will do what I can to stop this distortion of the international right to asylum and the notion of global responsibility and solidarity.”
The draft law is likely to be amended by EU home affairs ministers and the European parliament, who will determine the final legislation.
Politicians have dwindling confidence in the viability of common European asylum policies due to the failure of their previous incarnations.
Last September, European leaders promised to relieve Greece and Italy of 160,000 refugees stranded on their territory. On Wednesday the EU admitted that member states had accepted just 3,056 – nearly 10 months after promising to help out.
Only 8,268 refugees have been resettled directly from the Middle East, despite a promise almost a year ago to resettle 22,504.