EU tries yet again to fix bro­ken down asy­lum sys­tem

Malta Independent - - News -

Con­ced­ing af­ter years of chaos and dis­pute that its costly asy­lum sys­tem is bro­ken, the Euro­pean Union an­nounced Wed­nes­day a ma­jor over­haul of the rules in the hope that more coun­tries will fi­nally be pre­pared to share re­spon­si­bil­ity for peo­ple landing on Europe’s shores seek­ing sanc­tu­ary or bet­ter lives.

The ar­rival in Europe in 2015 of well over 1 mil­lion mi­grants, most of them refugees flee­ing con­flict in Syria, sparked one of the EU’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal crises. The bloc has been riven by dis­putes over who should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for them, and whether ev­ery mem­ber state, in­clud­ing those with lim­ited or no sea ac­cess, should be obliged to help.

The ar­gu­ments rage on even though the en­try of unau­tho­rized mi­grants into the world’s big­gest trad­ing bloc has dwin­dled to a rel­a­tive trickle 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.

Na­tional re­sponses vary from erect­ing ra­zor-wire fences, to ig­nor­ing emer­gency calls from poorly main­tained, over­crowded boats in the Mediter­ranean. On oc­ca­sions, peo­ple have been left to lan­guish on ships rather than al­low­ing them to find safe har­bor. Aid groups and Euro­pean cit­i­zens have also been crim­i­nal­ized for try­ing to help out.

“The old sys­tem to deal with it in Europe no longer works,” Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Ur­sula von der Leyen told re­porters in Brus­sels.

She said the ‘New Pact for Mi­gra­tion and Asy­lum’ of­fers Europe “a fresh start.”

“We want to live up to our val­ues and at the same time face the chal­lenges of a glob­al­ized world,” she said. “Europe has to move away from ad-hoc so­lu­tions and put in place a pre­dictable and re­li­able mi­gra­tion man­age­ment sys­tem.”

The pro­pos­als hinge on a sim­ple idea. Mem­bers of the EU could help ease the load on those coun­tries that have seen the most mi­grant ar­rivals by sea, like Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, by tak­ing in some of the refugees or pro­vid­ing other ma­te­rial and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port.

Those not will­ing, could take charge of de­port­ing peo­ple whose ap­pli­ca­tions are re­fused. This op­tion might suit Aus­tria, the Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary, Poland and Slo­vakia, who are no­to­ri­ously re­luc­tant to ac­cept refugees. Hun­gary and Poland even launched a le­gal chal­lenge against a failed EU scheme for manda­tory mi­grant quo­tas set up in haste af­ter the 2015 in­flux.

The catch is that it would in­volve “flex­i­ble forms of sup­port start­ing off on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.” Stricter re­quire­ments “based on a safety net” would be im­posed should any mem­ber coun­try be caught in a po­ten­tial cri­sis like Greece was in 2015, when hun­dreds of thou­sands of Syr­ian refugees made the short — but some­times deadly — jour­ney from Turkey.

So far, vol­un­tary schemes have tended to fail.

The pro­pos­als sug­gest the EU will con­tinue with its pol­icy of hold­ing unau­tho­rized mi­grants in the Greek is­lands un­til they can be sent away. Ear­lier this month, a blaze de­stroyed the Mo­ria refugee camp on Les­bos on Sept. 9. Aid groups have warned for years about the state of the camp, where more than 12,000 peo­ple lived in fa­cil­i­ties meant for 3,000, and say it stands as a mon­u­ment to EU pol­icy fail­ure.

Von der Leyen said that the EU has agreed to set up a joint pi­lot project with the Greek au­thor­i­ties “for the man­age­ment of a re­cep­tion cen­tre.” She said a “task force will help im­prove con­di­tions for peo­ple on the is­land in a durable man­ner.

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