EU authorities in Brussels will unveil long-awaited proposals to overhaul European asylum rules, following the arrival of more than 1.1 million
refugees and migrants last year.
The rules, known as the Dublin regulation and dating back to the 1990s, require refugees to seek asylum in the first country they arrive in.
This system has been under strain for years, and was finished off last August when the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said all Syrian
refugees would be eligible to claim asylum in Germany.
A policy paper to be published by the European commission on Wednesday and seen by a main stream newspaper states that the current crisis has
exposed “significant structural weaknesses and shortcomings in the design and implementation of European asylum and migration policy”.
Although the UK is claiming victory in preserving the Dublin rules, the
reality is not so simple. The European commission will propose two options, which still have to be
agreed by EU member states. The widely trailed option of scrapping the
Dublin rules remains: under this proposal the EU would have a mandatory
redistribution system for asylum seekers based on a country’s wealth and ability to absorb newcomers.
A second option would preserve the existing Dublin rules, but add a “corrective fairness mechanism” so refugees could be redistributed around
the bloc in times of crisis to take the pressure off frontline arrival states.
The “corrective fairness mechanism” would be based on an existing scheme,
where member states have agreed to resettle 160,000 Syrian refugees from
Greece and Italy to other EU countries. But in the first six months of
operation, barely 1,000 refugees have been resettled under the scheme,
raising questions about its viability.
The UK, which can choose to opt out of EU asylum policy, does not take part in this redistribution system. EU officials have stressed since January
that the UK can also choose to take part in revised EU asylum rules.
The new rules will need to be agreed by EU member states and the European parliament.
Some MEPs continue to press for a common EU system. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal group in the European parliament, urged member
states on Tuesday night to agree “a new EU asylum system based on a fair distribution scheme”.
He said: “The overhaul of the Dublin agreement is an essential step if we
are to put in place a much-needed collective European response to the refugee crisis. Under the Dublin regulation, we have witnessed a race to the
bottom in which member states compete to become the least attractive for
refugees; but this has paralysed Europe.” On Tuesday, the EU’s border force warned that terrorists may have
infiltrated Europe by hiding among asylum seekers, noting that two of the
bombers in last November’s Paris attacks arrived on the continent in a
smuggling boat from Turkey.
Frontex’s annual risk analysis said: “The Paris attacks in November 2015
clearly demonstrated that irregular migratory flows could be used by
terrorists to enter the EU.”
Echoing observations made five months ago, the report added: “Two of the terrorists involved in the attacks had previously irregularly entered through
Leros and had been registered by the Greek authorities. They presented
fraudulent Syrian documents to speed up their registration process.
“As the vast majority of migrants arrive undocumented, screening activities
are essential to properly verify their declaration of nationality.” Frontex’s suggestions come weeks after European politicians introduced a
stringent new border policy that will see almost all asylum seekers landing
on islands such as Leros returned to Turkey.
Frontex claimed that it had documented an estimated 1.8m illegal border
crossings in 2015 – a six-fold increase on the previous record.
In response, migration experts warned that the number of irregular
migrants arriving in Europe was likely to be far lower as one individual
migrant may have been counted as they crossed several borders.
“They are not talking about 1.8 million people – they are talking about 1.8 million border detections,” said Nando Sigona, a migration-focused
academic at the University of Birmingham, who has previously written
about Frontex’s use of statistics. “People may have crossed more than one
border.” Frontex has previously been forced to admit that it double-counts migrants in its statistics. “People arriving in Greece would again be counted entering
Hungary,” the organisation said in a tweet last year.