The European Commission (2 September) proposed a collective EU programme for resettling refugees, provoking mixed reviews from experts, a ‘Joint EU Resettlement Programme.
According to Euractive.com, the EU’s share of the global burden is currently extremely small, with less than 4,400 refugees resettled within the EU in 2008, compared to 10,000 in, for example, Australia. As a result, the European Commission’s proposed ‘Joint EU Resettlement Programme’ was widely welcomed as a step in the right direction to increasing these figures, a measure which should also decrease the number of asylum seekers attempting to illegally enter Europe, according to the EU executive.
Gilles Van Moortel of the UNHCR Brussels office (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) told EurActiv that his organisation hopes this proposal will increase the number of refugees in the EU – “the more, the better,” he argued.
According to Van Moortel, momentum towards such an agreement has been building up for a number of years, with France, Portugal, Czech Republic and Romania recently developing their own resettlement programmes, and growing numbers of refugees being admitted into countries such as Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.
The Commission’s proposal notes that currently, only 10 EU member states carry out resettlement on an annual basis, and “all these resettlement activities are carried out without much consultation and coordination among EU member states”.
The new scheme would not oblige EU member states to resettle refugees, but would offer monetary incentives – amounting to 4,000 euros per resettled refugee – from the European Refugee Fund, under the auspices of the “future European Asylum Support Office”.
Van Moortel argued that “resettlement needs to be well organised,” highlighting the importance of integration. While there is a long-standing debate – often heated – between different EU countries as to which method of integration is most effective, the UNHCR spokesman believes “the new proposal should enhance practical cooperation between member states,” including potentially sensitive cooperation between countries who have longstanding refugee policies, such as Sweden or the Netherlands.
Resettlement for the privileged few? Others, however, are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to the Commission’s proposal.
A spokesperson for the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR) in London told EurActiv that while the “joint programme” is indeed a step in the right direction, they “wouldn’t expect there to be any easy agreement between member states with clashing ideas on how best to integrate refugees”.
Furthermore, ICAR argues that the proposal’s claims to demonstrate concrete humanitarian solidarity with third countries must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Many member states treat asylum claims before the refugees have even had a chance to get to Europe, argues the spokesperson, claiming that “these are people who are carefully selected from UNHCR refugee camps, based on socio-economic criteria, i.e. the needs of individual member states”.
“This is resettlement for the privileged few,” they concluded, and appears to run contrary to the spirit of how this proposal is being sold.
British Liberal MEP Sarah Ludford, an advocate of a common EU asylum system, also expressed scepticism as to the intentions of EU member states, telling EurActiv that “this proposal could be valuable if it means that people in danger and meriting protection do not have to endure a risky journey to Europe. But it cannot be an excuse for member states to dodge their responsibility to ensure access to high-quality national asylum systems for people who do reach our shores”.
“The fact that Italy is pushing boat people back out to sea to avoid processing claims puts in doubt whether all member states would act in good faith,” she said. No Brussels control of asylum policy, says UK MEP
Meanwhile, another UK MEP, Conservative Timothy Kirkhope, said yesterday that while “cooperation and solidarity across the European Union is important when it comes to the burdens that EU border countries face,” a cooperative approach “such as the one the Commission is proposing could undermine our ability to decide who we grant asylum to and who we allow into our country”.
“The European Commission says that governments will ultimately decide the number of people they accept, however we need cast-iron guarantees that this will not be the next step towards our asylum policy being decided by Brussels,” he concluded.