Europe migration: EU plans obligatory pact to ‘rebuild belief’

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  • Europe migrant crisis

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After years of division over the response to a large influx of migrants and refugees, the European Union has called for a compulsory system to manage migration.

The pact supported by Germany would require the participation of all 27 EU countries.

Member States would either agree to accept asylum seekers or take over the return of rejected asylum seekers.

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called it a “European solution … to restore citizens’ trust”.

The recent fires that destroyed Moria camp in Greece and hosted more than 12,500 migrants and refugees were “a clear reminder that we need to find sustainable solutions,” she added.

Since the influx of over a million migrants and refugees in 2015, mainly via Italy and Greece, the 27 EU countries have been divided on the response, and the new pact has already drawn criticism.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz doubted the idea of ​​distributing asylum seekers across Europe. “It won’t work that way,” he told the AFP news agency.

Italy and Greece have blamed wealthier northern countries for not doing enough, but a number of Central and Eastern European countries have openly opposed the idea of ​​including a migrant quota.

What’s on the plan?

The new pact, which was most strongly promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, provides for a “fair division of responsibility and solidarity between the member states while at the same time guaranteeing security for individual applicants”. There would be:

  • New mandatory pre-entry screening with health, identity and security checks
  • A faster asylum border procedure with decisions within 12 weeks and quick returns for failed applicants

The 27 EU countries would have “flexible options” for participation, so countries like Hungary and Poland, which have refused to accept arrivals in the past, would be asked to help in different ways.

  • Accept newcomers
  • “Sponsorship” Return – Ensuring that asylum seekers are returned on behalf of other countries
  • Immediate operational support
  • Every state would be legally obliged to contribute its “fair share” – based on half the GDP and half the population

The President of the European Commission said the new pact will “restore trust between member states” and strike the “right balance between solidarity and responsibility”.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she suspected that none of the member states would be happy with the pact, “but I think we have 27 member states and one parliament who would say it is worth working on”.

The new pact is also intended to replace the aging Dublin rule, which requires asylum applications to be processed in the EU country where the applicant first enters the system.

Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said the old regulation was intended for a few people fleeing dictatorships, not today’s reality.

Not an easy solution to a long-term crisis

Analysis by Kevin Connolly, Europe Correspondent

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Of all the problems facing the European Union, none are more chronic or corrosive than migration. The search for solutions began even before the upheaval of 2015, when a million migrants, refugees and asylum seekers arrived on the banks of the block.

And the 2016 deal, in which Turkey agreed to withhold part of this flood of humanity in exchange for substantial cash payments, is now showing signs of tension. That leaves the EU countries where migrants land first – Greece and Italy in particular – that bear most of the burden.

But Poland and Hungary have in the past resolutely opposed plans for compulsory partition. Money or EU plans to process asylum applications more quickly are unlikely to change their minds.

When the EU Home Affairs Commissioner says that “no one will be satisfied with these new measures”, she highlights the compromise that she must make between humanitarian duty and political reality.

It also stresses the difficulty of resolving this long-term crisis.

Why now?

The new pact, most strongly promoted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, was brought forward after the fires in the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos.

The number of people arriving on Europe’s shores to seek refuge has fallen to around 55,000 this year and Ms. Johansson has made it clear that the situation is now very different. “In 2015 we had 1.8 million irregular arrivals and the majority were refugees,” she said. The numbers were much lower now and refugees were in the minority.

But the fires that paved the island’s sprawling and overcrowded Moria migrant camp have prompted European states to take more decisive action and take in those who have become homeless.

However, the plans have already resulted in the charity Save the Children accusing the EU of “failing to learn from their recent mistakes”.

Earlier this month, Germany announced that 10 European countries had agreed to take in 400 unaccompanied minors who fled the fire in Moria camp. Most of it will go to Germany and France.

A faster return of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected is also planned, with more support to non-EU countries affected by migration.

Save the Children’s Anita Bay Bundegaard said plans for special attention for children were welcome, but the charity feared the new plans “could replicate the same flawed approach” that led to the Moria fire and previous disasters.

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