Author: Nikolaj Nielsen
Posted: 24 November 2016
The Slovak EU presidency wants to broaden relocation of asylum seekers to include categories of people to be returned home and step up internal border checks to prevent them from reaching their preferred EU state.
The proposal is part of a larger Slovak-led “effective solidarity” concept that was first discussed last week at an informal dinner of migration ministers in Brussels. The idea means EU states could, if they so choose, decide to relocate rejected migrants but with the intention to send them home.
The latest iteration, a nearly three-page internal document seen by EUobserver, builds on the discussion input from the ministers and is meant to feed into the next EU summit in December in the hope of gaining wider political momentum.
EU states have shown resistance towards a two-year scheme launched last year to relocate some 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy. Both Slovakia and Hungary have filed court cases challenging the scheme at Europe’s highest court in Luxembourg.
At a summit in Bratislava in September, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico had also declared relocation “politically finished”. The Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – instead proposed an alternative that called for “flexible solidarity”.
The relocation plan has largely failed to deliver even among EU states that supported it. Only around 7,000 people have been distributed under the scheme as of earlier this month. Most came from Greece and have ended up primarily in France.
The Slovak EU presidency now wants relocation from Italy and Greece to cover people, like failed asylum seekers, that need to be returned to their home countries.
The idea aims to quicken the pace of return operations carried out in the two countries.
“While all member states should participate in such transfers, they could decide to transfer only certain categories such as those with high or low recognition rates,” notes the paper.
Those categories also range from people more likely to be integrated into society to unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable cases.
“The level/intensity of such transfers would take into account the severity of the crisis and its impact on the capacity of the affected member state to host and treat the cases of the migrants,” the paper notes.
Not everyone is happy with the latest Slovak plan, with grumblings emerging even among one or two Visegrad allies.
Relocation categories aside, the Slovak paper also speaks about imposing internal border control checks “and other additional measures” to prevent refugees reaching their EU state of choice.
Those additional measures could include “detention where necessary and proportionate”.
With the closure of the Western Balkan route earlier this year, around 50,000 people are currently stuck in Greece, although some still manage to navigate through the police barriers.
Frontex, the EU border agency, said 11,000 people, mostly Afghans, had ventured through the Balkan route in the first half of this year as others continue to trickle in from Turkey to the Greek islands.
Tens of thousands are also still arriving to Italy from the north African coast, with some 28,000 in October, the highest yet for any month on record.
An EU official told reporters last week in Brussels that the concept of effective solidarity opens up greater ways for EU states to help manage the migration and refugee crisis.
EU states would be able to pick and choose those areas that suit their interests in terms of relocation, or financial contributions, to accommodating asylum seekers to return operations.
“So among those elements, we try to find some balance,” he noted.
The broad concept remains intact with the latest paper with the notion of ‘effective solidarity’ triggered as part of three step scenario.
The first scenario is for “normal circumstances” where the number of arrivals is described as moderate. Normal EU asylum rules apply. The second calls for a “tailored solidarity contribution when a relative high number of people are arriving. The so-called “effective solidarity” applies.
The third is likely the most controversial and would bypass the EU commission and EU parliament altogether in case of “extraordinary circumstances”. A plan would instead evolve from EU states with input from the European Council.