Written by Richard Freedman. In cooperation with Anita Orav and Alexandra Gatto.
The EU is facing one of its greatest challenges since its foundations in the 1950s. People of all ages are migrating in unprecedented numbers from war-torn and unstable regions, such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya. According to the EU Agency Frontex, roughly 1 214 000 detections of illegal border-crossings were reported by the end of October 2015 compared with approximately 235 000 during the same period in 2014.
As set out in the EPRS briefing ‘EU legal framework on asylum and irregular immigration ‘on arrival’ State of play of March 2015‘, Legal provisions on asylum and immigration are to be found both at EU level and at Member States’ level. Moreover, the international law framework is set by the Geneva Convention and its Protocol relating to the status of refugees, currently binding 142 Contracting States. Huge political leaps forward are ongoing in order to try and tackle the crisis. From hotspots with extra resources to register immigrants to an emergency relocation system, this is one of the busiest areas of EU action.
No easy solutions on the table
Concerted action is needed to address illegal crossings of the EU external borders, not least because there are no internal borders in the Schengen area. A military operation called EUNAVFOR MED has been launched in the Southern Central Mediterranean to fight smuggling activities and help save lives of migrants exploited by the criminal networks of smugglers.
Further, in order to reduce the number of crossings, legal entry channels to the EU could be proposed for persons in need of international protection. These include a possibility to trigger the so-called Temporary Protection Directive, as well as making use of ‘humanitarian admissions’ and ‘humanitarian visas’ and private sponsorship.
In addition to actions on EU territory, solutions are sought outside Europe through cooperation with third countries. The aim is to address the root causes of irregular migration, to counter and prevent migrant smuggling and trafficking, and to provide effective return, readmission and reintegration policies for those not qualifying for protection.
Migrant flow from the Western Balkans
As part of the European Agenda on Migration, the Commission proposed on 9 September 2015 to establish a common EU list of safe countries of origin, initially comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.
In light of the large number of asylum applications received from the citizens of Western Balkans regardless of the low recognition rates across the EU, this would enable fast-tracking of asylum applications from citizens of these countries, which are considered ‘safe’ according to the criteria set out in the Asylum Procedures Directive and in full compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement means that ‘no Contracting State shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.
Currently, these safe lists are defined at national level and not coordinated, which can lead to different recognition rates of similar asylum applications and the incentive to apply for asylum in Member States with higher recognition rates. The EPRS briefing of October 2015 sets out more information.
European Parliament action
The European Parliament has shown support to alleviate the migratory pressure in the Member States. In a resolution adopted on 10 September 2015, the European Parliament supported allocating an extra €401.3 million in EU funding to tackling the refugee crisis.
On 17 September 2015, the European Parliament backed the Commission’s new proposal to relocate an additional 120,000 asylum seekers from Italy, Greece and Hungary, after having approved the first temporary emergency rules for relocating an initial 40,000 from Italy and Greece only on 9 September. The activity of the European Parliament in approving the measures in record time sent a clear signal to the EU home affairs ministers, urging the Member States to come to an agreement and take immediate action.
Migration is a huge issue facing the EU and the wider world. Escalating tensions in the Middle East and Africa are testing the EU’s reception and humanitarian capacities. The European Union is fulfilling its role by tackling the crisis both in the short and long-term. At the European Youth Event 2016 no doubt this will be one of the key topics of discussion.