Commission moves from mandatory refugee relocations to voluntary resettlement

28 September 2017
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The Commission on Wednesday (27 September) made no proposals to continue with the divisive mandatory refugee relocation system and instead focused on resettlement, which means taking candidate refugees from outside the EU, on a non-mandatory basis.

The countries who decide to take part in the resettlement scheme will benefit from financial incentives. Half a billion euros have been set aside for EU members to take at least 50,000 refugees directly from Africa, the Middle East and Turkey to discourage migrant boats from making the risky Mediterranean crossing.

There will be “increased focus” on taking refugees from North Africa and the Horn of Africa – particularly Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia, the Commission said. This is obviously an effort to placate Italy, which has been under pressure due to high numbers of arrivals from these countries.

At the same time, the European Commission is backpedalling from its mandatory relocation strategy, which alienated several EU members from Central and Eastern Europe.

The programme set up by the Commission was approved by majority vote of member states in the face of opposition from the Visegrad countries who said their societies could not absorb mainly Muslim immigrants.

The European Court of Justice on 6 September dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy, upholding Brussels’ right to force member states to take in asylum seekers.

The Commission-proposed relocation scheme introduced two years ago expired on 26 September.

Under the system, member states should have taken a total of around 98,000 migrants from Italy and Greece. In reality, 29,144 relocations have taken place so far, 20,066 from Greece and 9,078 from Italy.

But with the EU-Turkey deal reducing irregular flows to Greece by 97% and the majority of migrants arriving in Italy not being eligible for relocation, the number of persons to be relocated turned out to be much lower.

The Commission made the point that the figure of 98,000 was decided based on arrival figures from two years ago.

Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who presented the package of new proposals, was asked if the Commission would still push for legal action against the Visegrad countries. “I prefer dialogue to sanctions,” he said, adding: “Now is an opportunity to start working together again.”

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