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European Union states must follow through with refugee relocation program – expert opinion

15:47 | 20.11.2015 | Analytic


20 November 2015. PenzaNews. The countries of the European Union must distribute the planned 160,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, overcome mutual misunderstandings and develop a joint program to solve the prolonged crisis, writes Angeliki Dimitriadi, research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) that focuses on illegal migration, in her article titled “Burden sharing, where art thou?” published in the foreign media.

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She reminds that the first 30 participants of the relocation program in Greece, including four families from Syria and two from Iraq, have departed from Athens to Luxembourg in early November 2015.

“To mark the occasion, a ceremony preceded their departure and was attended by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and Greece’s Alternate Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas,” the analyst points out.

At the same time, she notes that the European Union has failed to achieve anything significant in this issue so far. In particular, the EU countries only accepted fewer than 200 migrants and made available less than 1,500 places for refugees out of the planned 160,000. Moreover, they did not provide the required numbers of migration experts and border guards to deal with the issue.

She also stresses the fact that the projected network of “hotspots” – screening, distribution and temporary residence centers for asylum seekers – currently fails to deliver, as Greece and Italy, the two countries that receive thousands of migrants from African and the Middle East, only opened one such institution each by early November 2015.

“Italy has publicly acknowledged that it is waiting to see how quickly EU members will mobilize, and how quickly relocation will take place before it sets up more centers. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said as early as in September that though Italy is ready for the hotspots, it is up to Europe to redistribute the migrants,” the expert writes.

In the meantime, according to her, Athens suffers from a dire lack of resources, with any real assistance from Europe nonexistent, and has to work behind the schedule – the facts highlighted by the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann during his visit to the newly-opened Lesbos migrant screening center in October 2015.

“He warned that more of them would not be ready in time since ‘in terms of timing and organization, nothing has been thought through. [To be ready] by the end of the year requires central coordination, considerably more resources, considerably more personnel’,” Angeliki Dimitriadi quotes the politician.

Also, the author points out that Germany, Austria and Sweden are the only EU countries to follow their end of the bargain on migrant quotas, along with directly receiving asylum applications.

“Sweden has already announced that it will apply for activation of the relocation mechanism, meaning it has insufficient capacity to receive more arrivals at this moment in time. Directly affected countries speak of national systems that are overwhelmed and a desire to fence their borders, while Germany appears to be standing alone in its decision to keep its borders open to refugees – especially the Syrians,” Angeliki Dimitriadi writes.

According to official statistics, she says, Germany already registered the arrival of over 758,000 asylum seekers, more than a third of them from Syria; as a result, Berlin had to make a step backwards, and now the country offers the arriving refugees only subsidiary protection for one year.

From the analyst’s point of view, even though the winter is approaching and the death toll in the seas continues to grow, the European authorities keep delaying the solution for the crisis without any legitimate reasons, which may turn the frontline states into “waiting zones” for hundreds of thousands of people.

“The Commission has cautioned the need for patience with more relocation planned in the coming month. Nevertheless, if the figures remain in the dozens rather than hundreds, at this speed it will take more than two years to reach the goal of 160,000. When looking at these figures we need to keep in mind it is not just Syrians arriving. Europe is on the receiving end of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan, albeit in smaller numbers, and not all fall under the relocation scheme. What will happen to those who are entitled protection but fall outside the criteria of the temporary measures undertaken?” Angeliki Dimitriadi asks.

In her opinion, the current migration crisis cannot be solved quickly or just by a part of the European Union, and yet certain EU member states continue to avoid providing assistance against their common problem.

The causes of refugee and migration crises are complex and require structural changes in countries of origin and transit that often take decades to address, and have unpredictable outcomes. For now, the EU has to come to terms with a changing world and its changing position in it. The focus should be both inward and outward looking,” the author suggests.

From her point of view, Europe is in dire need of a more flexible and immediate migration response mechanism that would require obligatory participation from all European states.

Moreover, Angeliki Dimitriadi urges to discuss legal channels of entry, and utilization of EU embassies in third countries to process claims, in the nearest possible future.

“It is also time to openly address demographics. How many people can the EU absorb, over what period, and most importantly, what are EU’s existing and future needs? Migration can be a mutually beneficial experience for the individual and the host if we choose to make it so,” the expert thinks.

At the same time, in her opinion, the European authorities could enlist the assistance of third countries, on condition of close monitoring from the Union.

The EU needs to provide Italy and Greece the financial and human resources they require, coordinate the state and non-commercial organizations, and begin preparing for relocation of refugees, Angeliki Dimitriadi proposes.

“It would be perceived as a sign of goodwill not only internally but also externally, and an indication that Europe is finally stepping into a leadership role when it comes to managing the crisis,” she thinks.

As she points out, these measures would not stem the flow of refugees, but the work already underway must be followed through regardless.

“The goal of 160,000 relocated refugees is a drop in an ocean compared with the millions that are already hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Yet this is a test of the willingness and capacity of the Union to respond to a changing world. Many more refugee crises are expected, and failure to rise to the present challenge makes for a gloomy future outlook,” Angeliki Dimitriadi concludes. 

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