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EU Migration Agenda and the much controversial quota system

EU Migration Agenda and the much controversial quota system
The European Commission suggests an immediate increase of the budget for saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea and acknowledges that it is important to put more emphasis on solidarity and open legal paths to protection for refugees into the EU, such as resettlement. This can be understood as genuine effort to solve the current situation. On the other hand, the Commission proposes a number of rather inefficient and also already existing measures.
On 13 May 2015 the European Commission issued the EU Migration Agenda that at least in a few points brings about a new approach to the current policies. The Commission explicitly states that it is important to protect those that need it. The Migration Agenda raises the financial resources for saving peoples´ lives as well as the number of places for refugee resettlement [1] and it also suggest an obligatory relocation of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States.

Quotas and relocation of asylum seekers 

The intra-EU relocation of asylum seekers became very controversial and resonates in debates in EU Member States. The European Commission proposes a redistribution of 40 000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees that will have arrived to Italy in the next two years.[2]

24 000 people from Italy and 16 000 from Greece would be relocated. It is precisely Syrians and Eritreans that have the highest rate of recognition in the EU as refugees. Most people would be sent to Germany, France and Spain. The Czech Republic would in this case receive 797 + 531 asylum seekers.

What is the Member states reaction? 

This number seems too big for some Member states, Italy on the contrary sees it as too little to have any impact on the Italian situation.

The distribution criteria based on which asylum seekers should be relocated, might be different (such as GDP, population size or unemployment rate) and states have different ideas about these as well. The Spanish government, for example, is stressing the need to take more into consideration the level of unemployment, others point to the fact that they are already hosting huge numbers of refugees on their territories. 

NGOs on the opposite criticize that the proposal does not take into consideration the wishes or social and family ties of refugees in the EU Member States. This would create a system similar to the Dublin Regulation that already today sends people across Europe without taking their opinions into consideration. This leads inevitably to people anyway leaving the country where they have been sent and becoming irregular without access to basic rights and being drastically sent back to the EU country from where they left.

Others believe that the requirement in the Commission proposal for people to remain in the country of relocation for five years is disproportionate. On the other hand with enough integration support, in five years people might be more likely to stay in the destination country permanently. 

What the Commission and EU Member states seem not to see is that Dublin Regulation does not work because people cannot choose to which country they want to go. States do not take into consideration the family links of asylum seekers although they should, based on the Dublin regime. For a long-term sustainable distribution of asylum seekers, their personal, family and diaspora links and wishes must be taken into consideration. Otherwise it is nearly impossible to prevent them from trying to move to another country.

There is an argument in the Czech debate that the acceptance of quotas would deprive us of the sovereign right to decide who can enter our country. It is surprising that such argument comes from a pro-European oriented government. We have decided by acceding to the EU that it is necessary to address some topics on the European level, when national solutions are not appropriate and effective. The current migration situation is exactly such a case.

With abolishing the internal borders between EU Member States and profiting from free movement of persons and goods, which is among the most appreciated benefits of the EU membership, we have accepted a common responsibility for the external EU border. And consequently for the incoming migrants and refugees as well.

Resettlement

Resettlement is one of the possible durable solutions for refugees in camps outside of the EU, especially for the most vulnerable and traumatized that cannot and will not be able to return to their country of origin or stay in the region. Millions of people are devastated by the difficult situation and frustration of the life in limbo with no perspective in refugee camps and are unable to come to Europe in a legal way. Thus they are forced to put themselves and their families in the hands of smugglers or traffickers. Refugees for resettlement are usually chosen by the UNHCR together with the destination country.
The European Commission suggests resettlement of 20 000 people to EU Member States during the next two years. In some countries this resonates as a high number. However, UNHCR estimates that urgent resettlement will be needed for 960 000 people worldwide in 2015, at the moment there are only 80 000 places offered, the minority of it in Europe. [3]

Regarding a huge number of refugees to be resettled, we need to look in which circumstances people live. Millions of Syrians are currently in refugee camps in neighbouring countries with no perspective to be able to continue their lives. Many people that are offered resettlement reject this option as they want to stay close to their country and later also go back. For those that do not have another option though, this is often a question of saving their life and human dignity. 

NGOs are calling for more resettlement than only 20 000. Vulnerable people should be always prioritized (like single mothers with children or people traumatized for whom it would be too difficult to go back). It is important that people are well prepared for resettlement before leaving the refugee camps and that they are given enough attention in the destination country. Support of cities and local authorities and NGOs that help resettled refugees with integration is thus crucial.

Some in the Czech debate also claim that there is no such right to life in material security. These however are not the argument that the European Commission uses to support its proposal. It does it by pointing to the fact that international law clearly includes the right to seek asylum (and European law even codified the right to asylum in the EU Charter on fundamental rights) and the right to leave any country including one’s own.

Military action in the Mediterranean Sea

One of the very controversial proposals is the use of military force to destroy ships in the Mediterranean Sea in order to fight illegal smugglers. Smugglers profiting from desperate situation of migrants and refugees are of course engaging in a criminal activity, but it is important to understand that they would not exist if there was no demand for their services. And the demand is here because Syrian refugees have no legal possibility to enter the EU in a legal way. They are pushed to the arms of smugglers by lack of other options. 

It is not clear how the “enemies” would be identified, whether also fishermen’s boats would not be destroyed, just because these could potentially also become travel means for migrants and refugees.
If such a military action is carried out in the end and it is eventually successful, the result can only be either high number of people stranded in chaotic Libya, or, more likely, smugglers will find other and more dangerous ways to the EU, as we have witnessed already many times. 
On 22 June 2015 the European Council endorsed the action. The EU will still need a decision of the UN Security Council “or” a consent of a state in which territorial waters the action would take place. As we speak about Libya here, which has two governments at the moment, one official and one unofficial, and which is in very chaotic conditions in general, it is not clear with whom the EU would be talking or from whom it would ask for a permission with the military intervention.

Labour migration

With regards to labour migration, the Commission suggests measures only focused on highly qualified workers (in the framework of the Blue card Directive).  

However economic migrants keep coming to Europe, including the low qualified ones. They mainly come through irregular channels because legal paths do not exist. When they find work in the EU, it is often in the black economy, thus without paying taxes. But this is often not being the choice of the migrant, also because this means for him/her not having access to basic rights guarantees. And it is difficult to change this reality, because labour migrants do not complain nor protest, in most cases they try to survive and send money home. 

The question of remittances is one of the things forgotten in the debate about migrants in the EU today. The Commission and EU Member states rightly say that in order to lower the number of migrants coming to Europe, we need to improve the situation in their countries of origin. And it has been proven that remittances that migrants send back home to their families, is one of the most effective development aid tools. No such aid can of course be effective in war-torn countries or where all fundamental rights are being violated. If people could come legally to seek work in the EU, send money back home and visit their families at any point, it would not just solve their problems but also the problem of the misuse of grey economy in Europe.

The expected outcome of the European Council 

The Justice and Home Affairs Council that met on 16 June in Luxembourg did not agree on anything substantive with regards to solidarity in asylum issues. States agreed that it is important that all EU member states make their part in a solution with regards to solidarity. The Commissionner Avramopulos said he was sure that an agreement will be reached by the end of July. 
This week, on 25-26 June, the European summit shall decide about the Commissions proposals on the EU Migration Agenda.

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The EU Migration Agenda came up with a few interesting ideas, that go in the right direction, but are not courageous enough. A more radical and logical step would be the abolition of the Dublin Regulation and providing the refugees with  free movement in the EU, which is one of the basic freedoms of the EU. No quotas would then be necessary and the current migration influx would naturally spread across the EU, accordingly to unemployment and other local conditions. 

The current fear of people of migration is to a large extent also fueled by the fact that people come in irregular and unregulated way. It is not possible to stop coming of people that seek protection. They do not think they are doing anything wrong by trying to survive, so a better way to manage this would actually be to legalize and regulate migration flows. As it was more logical to legalize and regulate trade with alcohol in order to suppress the black market, it makes sense to do the same thing in the area of migration. Prohibition of alcohol also showed to be ineffective, there has always been demand for it and more prohibition actually led to more criminal activities, black markets and tax evasions. If we take the lead and legalize, regulate and – in case of labour migration – tax migration, we take out the wind from the sails of smugglers, without any violence. 
Opening legal channels for protection, including resettlement, is one of the steps towards this regulation, in which also the EU citizens themselves could feel safer.


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This article has been funded from the project "Integration of Labour Migrants in the Czech Republic: Reinforcing the role of the Czech towns", CZ.1.04/5.1.01/77.00030, supported by the European Social Fund in the Czech Republic via the OP LZZ program. 

[1] Resettlement is a durable solution for vulnerable refugees where people are brought from refugee camps in the crisis region, for example in the Middle East, into another country, such as the US or EU Member State.

[2] Based on available statistics in 2014 and 2015 most people arrived irregularly to Italy and Greece, which created an immense migration pressure in both countries. In 2014 there was an increase by 277% compared to 2013 and by 153% in comparison with the previous year in Greece.

[3] US, Australia, Canada and European nordic countries, such as Sweden resettle most refugees.

Karolína Babická
Karolína Babická works as migration and asylum policy and advocacy officer in European Brussels-based NGO. She holds a PhD in international law from Charles University in Prague and Odysseus Network Certificate in EU Migration and Asylum Law.
Karolína Babická
Karolína Babická absolvovala doktorské studium na Právnické fakultě University Karlovy v Praze a je držitelkou Odysseus Network Certificate in EU Migration and Asylum Law. Věnuje se politické a advokační činnosti v oblasti migrace a azylu jako zaměstnanec jedné z celoevropských NNO sídlících v Bruselu.
29. 6. 15
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