New asy­lum sys­tem to help ‘front­line’ na­tions

Arab Times - - INTERNATIO­NAL -

BRUS­SELS, Sept 24, (AP): The Euro­pean Union an­nounced a ma­jor over­haul of its asy­lum sys­tem Wed­nes­day in hopes that more coun­tries will fi­nally share re­spon­si­bil­ity for peo­ple land­ing on Europe’s shores seek­ing sanc­tu­ary or bet­ter lives.

The move comes af­ter years of chaos and dis­pute among the bloc’s 27 na­tions over the han­dling of mi­grants and refugees amid a recog­ni­tion that the cur­rent EU sys­tem for de­cid­ing whether they should re­ceive pro­tec­tion or be sent home has failed.

“The old sys­tem to deal with it in Europe no longer works,” Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Ur­sula von der Leyen told re­porters in Brus­sels, adding that the “New Pact for Mi­gra­tion and Asy­lum” of­fers Europe “a fresh start.”

The ar­rival in 2015 of well over 1 mil­lion mi­grants, mostly refugees flee­ing war in Syria, sparked one of the EU’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal crises. EU na­tions have fought since over who should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mi­grants, with front-line Mediter­ranean na­tions like Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain de­mand­ing more help from their EU neigh­bors.

The ar­gu­ments rage on even though the num­ber of unau­tho­rized mi­grants has dwin­dled sharply in re­cent years. Some 140,000 peo­ple ar­rived last year, com­pared to around 2 mil­lion mi­grants who en­tered legally, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion says. Turkey, Le­banon and Jor­dan have had to cater to far more.

EU na­tions have re­sponded in var­i­ous ways, from erect­ing ra­zor-wire bor­der fences to ig­nor­ing emer­gency calls from over­crowded smug­glers’ boats in the Mediter­ranean. Some mi­grants have been left to lan­guish on ships for weeks rather than be­ing al­lowed into safe har­bors. Aid groups and Euro­pean cit­i­zens face crim­i­nal charges for their ef­forts to save lives.

The new plan hinges on the fast-track screen­ing of mi­grants ar­riv­ing at Europe’s bor­ders with­out per­mis­sion. It would be com­pleted within 5 days. Peo­ple would then be sent into an asy­lum track if they qual­ify for pro­tec­tion, or they would be pre­pared for de­por­ta­tion. Both pro­ce­dures would take 12 weeks and the mi­grants could be held in de­ten­tion.

From there, EU mem­bers could choose to help ease the load on coun­tries that have seen the most mi­grant ar­rivals by sea - like Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – by tak­ing in some refugees or pro­vid­ing other sup­port.

Those not will­ing to do that could take charge of de­port­ing peo­ple whose ap­pli­ca­tions are re­fused. This op­tion might suit Aus­tria, the Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary, Poland and Slo­vakia, who are all re­luc­tant to ac­cept refugees.

Hanne Beirens, Di­rec­tor of Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute Europe, said this op­tion al­lows coun­tries with anti-mi­grant gov­ern­ments to be­come “the bounc­ers of Europe” but she raised con­cerns about the le­gal sta­tus of peo­ple in the process.

“Those put in a bor­der pro­ce­dure, it will be as if they have never en­tered EU ter­ri­tory,” she said. That le­gal limbo al­lows au­thor­i­ties to quickly put peo­ple on a plane or a boat home.

Aus­trian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Karl Ne­ham­mer cau­tiously wel­comed the plan, say­ing it “goes in the right di­rec­tion in very im­por­tant ar­eas.” He stressed the need for the EU to con­duct de­por­ta­tions “faster, more strongly and more ef­fi­ciently,” the Aus­tria Press Agency re­ported.

Czech In­te­rior Min­is­ter Jan Ha­macek said his coun­try was open to the de­por­ta­tion pro­posal.

The catch is that the plan in­volves “flex­i­ble forms of sup­port, start­ing off on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.” Stricter re­quire­ments to help out would only be im­posed in cri­sis sit­u­a­tions like Greece saw in 2015, when hun­dreds of thou­sands of Syr­ian refugees made the short - but some­times deadly – jour­ney across from Turkey.

So far, vol­un­tary EU mi­gra­tion man­age­ment schemes have tended to fail.

EU Mi­gra­tion Com­mis­sioner Ylva Jo­hans­son ruled out the use of manda­tory quo­tas for shar­ing mi­grants. When asked whether more ef­fort would be made to save peo­ple in the Mediter­ranean, she said: “Not ac­cord­ing to our pro­posal. It will be the op­po­site, I guess.”

Jo­hans­son said this, com­bined with swift screen­ing and re­turn pro­ce­dures, should make peo­ple “think twice be­fore pay­ing a lot of money to the smug­glers and be­fore risk­ing their lives go­ing into these very dan­ger­ous boats.”

The pro­pos­als sug­gest the EU will con­tinue hold­ing unau­tho­rized mi­grants in the Greek is­lands un­til they can be sent away. Ear­lier this month, a blaze de­stroyed the squalid Mo­ria refugee camp on the Greek is­land of Les­bos, where over 12,000 peo­ple lived in fa­cil­i­ties built for 3,000. Von der Leyen said the EU has agreed to set up a joint pi­lot project with Greek au­thor­i­ties to man­age an im­mi­grant re­cep­tion cen­ter on Les­bos.

Out­sourc­ing will re­main a key pil­lar of EU mi­gra­tion pol­icy, with the bloc build­ing part­ner­ships with African and Mideast coun­tries to help stop peo­ple from leav­ing. Those coun­tries that do not take back their cit­i­zens could find it more dif­fi­cult to se­cure Euro­pean visas.


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