Europe is facing the largest influx of asylum seekers since the creation of the European Union (EU). Thousands of migrants lose their lives when crossing the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe (see earlier posts). The large amount of asylum seekers encumbers both the national and European asylum systems. Disproportionate responsibility is placed on the Member States that form the EU’s external borders due to a high influx of migration, as well as on those States voluntarily taking more responsibility in dealing with the crisis. The discrepancy in the treatment of refugees between the Member States, inter alia by giving asylum seekers incentives to reach specific countries that are more favorable to them, aggravates the irregular secondary movement within the EU.
13 May 2015, the European Commission (the Commission) presented its European Agenda on Migration. Since then, three implementation packages, derived from that agenda, have been adopted. The current refugee crisis has however revealed several weaknesses in the structure as well as in the implementation of existing rules, especially the Dublin Regulations. In particular, they were not designed to provide a fair sharing of responsibility among Member States. The EU’s legal framework requires a change in order to ensure an efficient and foremost humane common asylum policy. A multifaceted system that is based on responsibility and solidarity is essential for a sustainable EU migration policy.
The Commission’s proposal
6 April 2016, the Commission communicated its proposal to the European Parliament and the Council concerning various improvements of the current Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and better safe and legal pathways to Europe. One proposal concerns the Dublin III Regulation, which is to be reformed. Or, alternatively, a new system could be introduced in order to ensure a fair sharing of responsibility. Reforming the current system would result in an inclusion of a fairness mechanism, providing for distribution of people under certain circumstances, such as a mass influx of people. The suggested new system is based on a
distribution key. Most asylum seekers would, after the registration process in the country of first point of entry, be sent to another Member State in accordance with the distribution key. This key would be based on the Member States’ capacity, GDP and relative size. Family ties could be an exception to this distribution though. Such solutions could be compared with the resettlement scheme from fall 2015. Member States made new commitments and reaffirmed those to receive people in need. Unfortunately, the commitments turned out to be empty words since only a fraction of the number agreed on had been received in March 2016. The efficiency of the suggested solutions is questionable: why does the Commission imagine that similar attempts would work better now than before? Especially knowing that Member States have become even less eager to cooperate.
Beyond these two possibilities, the Commission plans to propose a long-term solution by introducing a centralized EU agency with national branches to deal with the asylum processes and achieve harmonization. However, this harmonization is not a possible solution within a short time. In order to limit irregular and secondary movement as well as guarantee legal certainty, a harmonized asylum process and standards among Member States is suggested. Another incentive for asylum seekers to stay in their designated States could be certain conditional rights. These rights would then only apply if the person stays in that State, which would also be obliged to take back asylum seekers that have moved to another Member State. What conditional rights the Commission refers to exactly is however, unclear. It is stated they do not cover fundamental rights. Presumably, these will be different social entitlements, inter alia financial support.
It might be understandable that in an EU asylum system, with a distribution of the asylum seekers, secondary movement should be avoided. A harmonization of standards and procedures would therefore be a fundamental step in eliminating, or at least reducing, irregular secondary movement. Otherwise the original distribution would have been an unnecessary step and use of resources if asylum seekers would not stay in the designated State.
Further measures proposed by the Commission were to expand the mandate of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in order to facilitate and ensure the compliance with the CEAS. The aim is strengthening its already operational functions within the system as well as expanding its mandate to cover a policy-implementing role. This means, monitoring of how the Member States comply with the existing standards, reception conditions. In cases where Member States’ actions and measures are considered insufficient, the EASO should be able to intervene. If sufficient steps are still not taken, the Commission could take actions against the Member States. Further, the mandate of the EASO would also cover the distribution mechanism in relation to the new Dublin Regulation.
Legal and safe migration routes (The EU-Turkey Agreement)
The EU-Turkey Agreement (the Agreement) was adopted in reaction to the illegal migration to the EU through Turkish borders and came into force on 20 March 2016. The aims are, besides creating safe and legal routes, to track the people smugglers´ businesses and dissuade the creation of new routes to enter the EU illegally. The Agreement stipulates that every new irregular Syrian migrant crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands will be returned to Turkey. It also follows a one in – one out rule: for every irregular Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU. Turkey possesses the responsibility to take necessary preventive measures in order to stop the creation of new sea or land routes for irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. What preventive measures that should be taken is for the Turkish Government to decide. For this task, the EU has provided its close cooperation and financial support to the Turkish Government : three billion euros were initially allocated and another three billion euros will be mobilised by the end of 2018.
If the Agreement could potentially reduce irregular migration, it is rather open to critique that this task is entrusted to a non-member State, the human rights quality levels of which, do not comply with EU standards. The International Rescue Office has denounced the accord as illogical and unethical: “The deal is only going to lead to more disorder, more lack of dignity”. Other aid agencies have claimed that the situation has only gone from bad to worse. These restrictions could encourage using different and potentially more dangerous routes, such as the journey from North Africa to Italy.
The plan is, after achieving a substantial reduction of these irregular crossings, to activate a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme (the Scheme). It is a recommendation formulated by the Commission, encouraging the Member States to participate on a voluntary basis in the Scheme by admitting persons in need of an international protection who have fled from the Syrian conflict. This will only apply to the individuals who have been registered by the Turkish authorities.
The efficiency of the Scheme is questionable, since it requires voluntary participation by Member States. However, the European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker is optimistic regarding such participation as he stated: “Being a great continent comes with great responsibilities. Today we are recommending that our Member States offer temporary protection to vulnerable people fleeing violent conflict in Syria, in line with their individual capacities”. But it may be too early to make any rushed statement, since the Agreement only entered into force last month and the Scheme has not been activated yet.
The unsuccessful common asylum system of the EU testifies of a failure to find a solution to the migration crisis. The EU’s framework was not ready to face the current migration crisis. Recent attempts of regulating the asylum system have also failed and not because the crisis was unexpected, rather lack of will and cooperation between the Member States. The latest agreement with Turkey shows the unwillingness of effectively dealing with the increasing migration influx since it is a total back turning to the asylum seekers. It seems like the EU has lost its fundamental values, such as solidarity, that were central at its starting point after the Second World War. The CEAS must be based on solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility together with a humane approach in order to reach the European Utopia.
Yasmin Semmane, Julia Steen and Anton Öberg