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Asylum policy

#Refugees: Rethinking the EU’s approach to refugee resettlement and relocation policy

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eu-border-2015-see-record-flow-migrantsRefugee resettlement to and within the European Union has so far embodied one of the weakest links in the EU’s refugee policy, writes Solon Ardittis.

To quote but two figures:

  • Under the existing EU voluntary scheme to resettle 22,000 refugees in the European Union over two years, agreed in 2015, less than 3,500 have so far been resettled in 10 member states.
  • As of 11 April 2016, only 1,145 asylum applicants, out of the 160,000 planned, had been relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU member states under the EU Relocation Plan agreed in 2015.

Based on their current design, EU resettlement and relocation policies are failing to gain traction in most member states, either because of their mandatory nature or because of their largely restrictive scope.

Indeed, one of the problems with such policies is that their decision-making process continues to rest with central government authorities alone, unlike the way resettlement is approached in some major non-EU countries; another problem is the strictly and univocally humanitarian nature of such policies.

If the EU Relocation Plan has failed to achieve its targets so far it is largely because its intra-EU distribution key was established solely on 'objective, quantifiable and verifiable criteria' (i.e. size of the population, GDP, unemployment rate and average number of spontaneous asylum applications and resettled refugees per 1 million inhabitants over the period 2010-2014). What the plan has largely overlooked is the need to also incorporate a range of other potentially enabling factors such as the willingness of local authorities, NGOs, other support groups, businesses and citizens to contribute to the financial and organisational aspects of relocation.

At a time of national budget cuts and deficits, and mounting hostility to the migrant crisis among specific segments of European society, it is therefore time for the EU to widen the scope of its resettlement and relocation policies in order to take account of the willingness of selected non-state actors to contribute substantively to the funding and implementation of such policies. In this regard, one potentially viable option that has been tested successfully elsewhere is the development of programmes of 'private sponsorship of refugees', enabling citizens, support groups and businesses to support many of the financial and non-financial costs of refugee resettlement. Canada’s experience in this area is enlightening.

Since 1979, Canada has been implementing a 'Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR)' programme that enables Canadian citizens and permanent residents to provide opportunities for refugees living abroad to find protection and build a new life in Canada. Based on a formal agreement with the Canadian authorities, private sponsors undertake to provide the refugees with care, lodging, settlement assistance and support for the duration of the sponsorship period. Normally, this is 12  months starting from the refugee's arrival in Canada or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient, whichever comes first.

Private sponsors normally agree to support such items as food, rent, household utilities and other day-to-day living expenses; clothing, furniture and other household goods; interpreters and medical doctors; assistance with the application for provincial health-care coverage; enrolling children in schools and adults in language training; introducing newcomers to people with similar personal interests; providing guidance with regard to banking services, transportation, etc.; and assisting refugees in their search for employment.

Since its launch in 1979, Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Programme has provided protection to some 250,000 refugees - around 7,000 per year. This is of course additional to the Government-assisted resettlement programme. Considering that Canada’s population accounts for 7% of the EU’s, the annual figure of 7,000 private sponsored refugees would amount potentially to some 114,000 in the case of the European Union.

Among other major non-EU host countries, Australia has been implementing a similar programme on a pilot basis between 2013 and 2016, and is now considering expanding it. In the United States, there is mounting pressure for the establishment of a similar scheme.

Within the European Union, only Germany is currently implementing such a scheme, albeit at Länder rather Federal level (i.e. 15 of the 16 Länder implement a private sponsorship scheme). The United Kingdom is in the process of finalising a similar policy, following an announcement made by the Home Secretary on 6 October 2015. Ireland and Switzerland had developed a similar scheme on a temporary basis, focusing specifically on the reunification of Syrian families.

The potential of such alternative and non-traditional approaches to refugee resettlement has not yet been explored and exploited fully within the EU.

As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed at the High-level meeting on 'Global responsibility sharing through pathway for admission of Syrian Refugees', held on 30 March 2016 in Geneva, private sponsorship not only adds more places for resettlement, but also "contributes to create this sense in civil society that it is a positive thing to do". Studies based on Canada’s experience suggest, in particular, that the long-term outcomes for privately sponsored refugees often exceed those for government-assisted ones, due in part to a stronger community support.

Privately sponsored refugee resettlement therefore appears to have the potential to compensate for many of the weaknesses in the EU’s current policies and measures in this area. However, for such a scheme to operate to its full potential, in particular by generating sufficient demand based on a range of criteria, its eligibility rules and modus operandi cannot draw solely on strictly humanitarian considerations. While it would of course be conceivable, and indeed desirable, that any future EU-based private sponsorship scheme establish a mandatory quota on vulnerable groups, there would be limited rationale for the scheme to also exclude more business-driven forms of resettlement, enabling employers to sponsor eligible refugees based on criteria such as education, skills and professional experience.

Refugees eligible for privately sponsored resettlement are usually referred by UNHCR anyway, and therefore their need for humanitarian protection has been ascertained prior to any privately sponsored resettlement agreement. Based on this premise, and considering the EU’s current economic and political climate, as well as the misfortunes of its resettlement and relocation measures to date, there would be limited ground for not extending the breadth of any future EU policies in this area to a more demand-driven eligibility and operating environment.

Solon Ardittis is director of Eurasylum, a European research and consulting organization specializing in migration and asylum policy on behalf of national public authorities and EU institutions. He is also co-editor of  Migration Policy Practice, a bimonthly journal published jointly with the International Organization for Migration  (IOM).

Asylum policy

Agreement on asylum agency is ‘an important step towards solidarity’

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Negotiators of the European Parliament and Council today (29 June) reached an agreement on transforming the European Asylum Support Office into a European Agency for Asylum.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: “The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is in motion. I am very pleased with this second legislative agreement since I took office. We need asylum decisions to be taken in a fast and fair manner and with the same high quality everywhere in Europe. And we need high and convergent reception standards across member states. The new Agency will help achieve this, building on the excellent work of EASO (European Asylum Support Office). It will also help us move away from crisis into preparedness and response – a key step towards sustainable migration management in Europe.”

Elena Yoncheva MEP (S&D, Bulgaria) said: “This is an important step toward an asylum policy based on solidarity, which we are fighting for here in the European Parliament; solidarity with the frontline member states, but also solidarity with those who need protection.”

Building on the experience of the European Asylum Support Office, the new agency will have a reinforced mandate that aims to contribute to:

More efficient asylum systems through greater operational and technical support to member states, including training, preparedness, information analysis, and exchange of information.

A reserve of 500 experts including interpreters, case handlers or reception specialists ready to be deployed as part of asylum support teams at the request of member states.

Uniform, high-quality decision-making by developing operational standards, indicators, guidelines and best practices for the implementation of Union law on asylum.

Better monitoring and reporting on asylum and reception systems to ensure more consistent practices throughout Europe, in line with EU law. 

Capacity building in non-EU countries to improve asylum and reception systems and support EU resettlement schemes, building on the existing co-operation with UN agencies.

A long running saga

The European Commission initially introduced its proposal for an EU asylum agency in May 2016, following the surge of migrants from war-torn Syria. Arriving at a time of deep economic malaise and division, migration further divided European states and pushed political agreement beyond reach. There has been a long hard slog since to achieve broad political agreement. The new Commission brought new impetus to this issue, led by Commissioner Johansson who introduced a new migration and asylum pact proposal in September 2020. The pact maintained the 2016 proposal for an asylum agency that was agreed on today. 

"The compromise today on the European Asylum Agency also gives hope for upcoming negotiations on the Migration Pact, the reform package of new EU migration laws. We now urge member states to step up negotiations in an equally constructive way on the Migration Pact for a stronger, more efficient EU migration policy,” said Tomas Tobé MEP, (EPP, Sweden).

Today's agreement is the second legislative agreement on the new pact proposals, following agreement on the Blue Card Directive in May. 

Since taking up its responsibilities in 2011, EASO has continuously supported EU states in applying EU asylum rules, by providing national country-of-origin information to encourage more uniform decisions, training and setting up dedicated networks of national authorities to enhance operational co-operation on asylum-related matters.

In 2021, EASO is working with a budget of €142 million and some 500 staff. Asylum support teams are present in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain. Over the past 10 years, EASO registered 40% of all asylum applications in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta, carried out 80% of best-interest assessments for children in Greece and supported all post-disembarkation relocations from Cyprus, Italy and Malta.

What next?

The agreement reached today needs to be formally endorsed by the European Parliament and the Council. As soon as the new regulation has entered into force (20 days after publication in the Official Journal), the European Asylum Support Office will become the EU Agency for Asylum and will be able to act based on its new mandate.

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Asylum policy

Commissioner Johansson attends the launch of the Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the EU

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Today (29 June), Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson (pictured) will attend the launch of the 10th edition of the Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the EU, published by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The Commissioner will be joined by EASO's Executive Director, Nina Gregori, and the Chair of the EASO Management Board, Mikael Ribbenvik. The annual report provides a comprehensive overview of key developments in the area of asylum in the EU Member States and associated countries. The report will present trends in asylum in 2020, with a special focus on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on national and EU asylum systems. The report will also outline policy changes, good practices and persisting challenges in the field of asylum. For embargoed press material, please contact EASO directly.

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Asylum policy

Turkey’s policy in #Libya threatens EU

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The Turkish intervention into the Libyan conflict caused the negative effect for the region: the balance of power changed and the GNA liberated Tripoli from the LNA forces and recently started a big-scale offensive on Sirte city. On 6 June after negotiations with the Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh Issa  and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the president of Egypt, issued the Cairo Declaration.

It is based on the agreements reached at the Berlin Conference on Libya in January. According to Cairo Declaration, "all parties undertake to cease fire from 6h local time on Monday, 8 June". In addition, it provides for the continuation of negotiations in Geneva under UN patronage of a joint military committee in the 5+5 format (five representatives from each side). Further progress on other issues, including political, economic and security, will depend on the success of its work.

EU Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Mayo welcomed the declaration and called for the cessation of all hostilities in Libya and the withdrawal of all foreign troops and military equipment from the country.

The French president noted that Turkey is playing "a dangerous game" in Libya. "I don't want in six months, or one year or two, to see that Libya is in the situation that Syria is in today," Macron added.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendyas announced on Wednesday 24 June in a statement following the visit of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrel to Evros that Turkey "continues to undermine security and stability, as well as peace in the Eastern Mediterranean", causing problems for all its neighbours. "Turkey has continuously violated the sovereignty of Libya, Syria, Iraq and our EU partner, the Republic of Cyprus. In Libya, again in clear disregard for international legitimacy, it violates the UN embargo in pursuit of its neo-Osmanian aspirations. It openly ignores Europe's repeated calls for respect for international legitimacy," Dendyas said.

Turkey rejected the Cairo Declaration: The "Cairo Initiative" on the Libyan settlement is “not convincing” and insincere, declared Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. After the Cairo Declaration Chairman of Presidential Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj urged the GNA troops to "continue their path" towards Sirte.

The recent success of the GNA troops is caused by the participation of Syrian mercenaries, connected with jihadists, who actively were sent in Libya by Turkey to fight against the LNA from may 2019. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the number of fighters from the pro-Turkey Syrian factions today can reach more than 18 000. Generally, the mercenaries are from Al-Mu'tasim Brigade, the Sultan Murad Brigade, the Northern Falcons Brigade, Al-Hamzat and Suleiman Shah. The mercenaries are promised to be paid 1500-2000 $ a month, but the current monthly salary of each fighter is around 400$.

The policy of Turkey in the Libyan region represents destructive neo-Ottoman and pan-islamist strategy, which is based on the neocolonialist ambitions. The possible explanation for the intervention to Libya is the instability in Turkey itself and the Erdogan’s loss of popularity (the support of AKP party came from 33.9 in February 2020 to 30.7 in May 2020 according to Metropol). The Turkish president uses the Islamic narrative (in Libya as the war on side of the GNA, in Turkey – the initiative to convert Hagia Sophia back into Mosque) for the legitimation of his power. İbrahim Karagül , the columnist in the mainstream Yeni Şafak media of Turkish Republic wrote:“Turkey will never withdraw from Libya. It will not give up before achieving its aim.”

The major pro-Erdogan media spread this neocolonialist agenda about from November 2019 (when GNA signed 2 deals with Erdogan): Libya is seen as a part of the neo-ottoman empire.

Threat for the EU

The negative effect of the neo-ottoman agenda in Libya is the threat of the new migration crisis, which can happen to the EU. In march 2020 Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Tayyip Erdogan, declared, that Turkey will not close the borders for refugees until the EU fulfills its promises to Ankara. Recently Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has noted the surge of a new wave of refugees to Europe amidst the stabilization of the COVID-19 situation. If Turkey responds to this challenge, Europe will face a new migration crisis and its social services will feel the main blow from the new wave of refugees.

The other front of threat is the Libyan costs, the starting point for the trip of migrants to Europe. Nearly 2,000 Turkish-backed Syrian militants that were transported to Libya over the last five months have fled the north African nation for Europe according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

European governments are taking steps to actively counter Turkish policy in Libya: France has already addressed NATO on this issue. French president has already discussed the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump, and more exchanges on the issue are expected in the coming weeks.

In order to protect European interests, it is important to protect Libya from Turkish expansion and to prevent Erdogan from gaining control over the country's assets.

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