Europe: leaders fail to agree on a solution yet again

Thursday, 23 July 2015 08:25 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Rome, 22 July 2015 -- As thousands of migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is disappointed by the failure of EU leaders to decide upon the relocation of 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the European Council summit this week in Luxembourg.

Countries on the coastline, such as Italy and Greece, are currently trying to cope with massive influxes of refugees. They have asked the European Union to relocate thousands to other European countries. But during the summit, the 28 EU states fell short of their target, finding places for only 32,256 refugees.

During a previous summit, EU leaders could not agree on a mandatory quota system, insisting on maintaining a voluntary system for relocating refugees. This week, France, Germany and Poland, among others, said they would take in less refugees than they previously offered. Denmark, Hungary and the UK opted out entirely.

"Unfortunately, once again we have seen history repeat itself. The European leaders have prioritised border control and security over saving and protecting the lives of those fleeing war and persecution," said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ. "When will our leaders start acting like the Union that they call themselves?"

JRS is particularly concerned by the following:

- The Dublin Regulation, which states that refugees must remain in the first country where they apply for asylum, has proved to be inadequate and ineffective. Yet it continues to be rigidly set forth as the only approach to taking in refugees.

- Insistence on compulsory identification procedures, which Italy and Greece would be required to implement as part of the planned redistribution measures, reveals that the EU is not willing to effectively share responsibility.

- The so-called "hot spot" mechanism is a source of concern. It calls for a greater presence of the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol officials in Italy, Greece and other frontline states to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint refugees. Many refugees coming through frontline states are only in transit and resist being photographed or identified. Forcing them to register would most likely result in their systematic detention.

- For Italy, the "solidarity" plan's low numbers (only 24,000 to be moved out of Italy over the course of 24 months), mean that, if current arrival trends continue, Italy would have to cope with a number of asylum applications more than double that of its current situation.

- The EU plans to identify "safe" countries from which migrants do not have a reason to flee, and to which they can therefore be sent back. The UN refugee agency has expressed concerns about the use of this definition: designating a country as a "safe third country" can result in requests for international protection either not being examined in detail and thus declared inadmissible, or glanced over too quickly without proper safety precautions. This measure's compatibility with the Geneva Convention has been repeatedly questioned.