In the first nine months of 2015 more than 710,000 people – refugees, displaced persons and other migrants – made their way to Europe, a trend that is set to continue.
This is a great test for the European Union as it works hard to ensure a united and humane response to the biggest humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. Initial action by the EU’s member states has been chaotic and painfully slow, and has been hampered by a small minority of countries, including Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia.
I have criticised those countries, and also criticised Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement in September that the UK would resettle 20,000 Syrians over the next five years, and will opt-out of all the key co-operation measures that already exist to deal with the crisis in the EU and on its borders. My main criticism of the UK government’s response is not that it has given too little in development aid to the affected areas – in fact, the UK’s £600m contribution makes it one of the highest international donors to the region – but that since 2011 it has accepted up to 5,000 asylum applicants, but resettled only 216 Syrian refugees under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. It is that scheme that will be extended to 20,000 over a five-year period. The refugees will not come from anywhere within, or on the borders of, the EU.
EU response to the refugee crisis
In a Europe-wide response set out in September, the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, put forward a new EU action plan that included a scheme to relocate 120,000 refugees from Hungary, Greece and Italy, a figure agreed by member states at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting. The Commission detailed a set of priorities to implement the European Agenda on Migration, which included short-term actions to stabilise the current situation as well as longer-term measures to establish a robust system that will bear the test of time.
Other proposals put forward by the EU Commission included:
- a permanent relocation mechanism for all member states that can be triggered by the Commission at any time to help any member state that is facing a crisis;
- a common European list of safe countries of origin to help those member states, which are faced with a growing number of asylum applications, by enabling a swifter processing of the applications;
- a EUR1.8bn Trust Fund for Africa to improve stability and address the root causes of irregular migration flows.
In September, the European Parliament also highlighted the need for immediate action on the refugee crisis by using an exceptional, urgent procedure on the proposal to agree the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers within the EU. As Chair of LIBE, responsible for migration and asylum, I led calls in the plenary session for Parliament to begin a dialogue with the EU Council to ensure an organised and compassionate response.
There are now two legislative proposals to tackle the migration and refugee crisis: one on a permanent mechanism for relocating people in need of international protection among EU member states under extreme pressure; and another on an EU common list of safe countries of origin, that is currently being debated by LIBE with the EU Commission, Council of Ministers, European Asylum Support Of Office (EASO) and Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
In December, LIBE held a technical meeting with members of national parliaments to discuss the EU’s response to the crisis at national and local levels. The meeting created an opportunity to discuss the “refugee hotspots” and the experiences of EU agencies in assisting member states to ensure the “hotspots” are fully implemented and that the budget is made available for the EU responses the Council is committed to.
It is important now that the European Parliament not only holds the European Commission to account, but also keeps the Parliament fully informed of the implementation of the hotspots in Italy and Greece. This, in turn, will enable the relocation mechanism. The European Council and member states should also make the necessary preparations for the civil protection mechanism to be triggered over the winter period if necessary.
While the European Commission and European Parliament have put forward plans for the reception, relocation and resettlement of refugees entering the EU, with a few exceptions member states are still not willing to work to manage the crisis in an effective and compassionate way. Labour MEPs continue to voice their frustrations at the lack of a united response to the crisis, and underline the responsibility of the EU to assist the countries of entry. We also continue to push for a co-ordinated, funded and humane EU response to this humanitarian crisis.
The refugee crisis will not simply be forgotten. I will ensure that this remains high on LIBE’s agenda and will continue to insist on a co-ordinated, humanitarian EU response.
To keep up to date with my work on the refugee crisis, or any other work in the European Parliament, you can follow me on Twitter @ClaudeMoraesMEP or email of email@example.com