The EU is to overhaul an asylum system it says is “neither fair nor sustainable” as it grapples with the worst migration crisis since the Second World War.
Under the plan, the European Commission is asking EU countries to share the refugee burden in order to ease pressure on frontline states such as Greece and Italy.
“The current crisis has shown that the present system is not working,” said commission vice-president Frans Timmermans. “This is neither fair nor sustainable given the reality of the volumes of people, which have put a huge burden on just a very few number of member states.”
The current “Dublin” system, named after the city where it was devised in the 1990s, forces asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first EU country they enter. It has put massive pressure on Greece, the EU’s most indebted state, where almost 1m people flocked last year, most of them fleeing a worsening civil war in Syria.
They were largely “waved through” to the rest of the bloc and accounted for a large portion of the 1.82m illegal border crossings detected by the EU’s borders agency, Frontex, last year.
In an options paper published yesterday, the European Commission said it would amend or scrap the Dublin system in favour of temporarily or permanently relocating asylum seekers around the 28-member EU.
It intends to publish a draft law before the summer based on one of two options: Keeping the Dublin rules but relocating asylum applicants if a country is overwhelmed by a sudden influx of people; or scrapping the Dublin rules in favour of automatic relocation among EU countries, according to their wealth and size.
The proposal also suggests upgrading the EU’s asylum fingerprint database, equalising asylum seekers’ rights in different countries (for instance, rights to residence or work permits, healthcare and education), penalising migrants that fail to apply for asylum where they are told to, and beefing up the EU’s asylum office so it can police the rules.
Scrapping the Dublin rules would prove particularly difficult for Britain, where migration is the most divisive issue in the lead-up to a June 23 referendum on whether or not to leave the EU.
Ireland would not be forced to participate in any new relocation scheme, as, like Britain, it has an opt-out on EU migration rules, but the Department of Justice said it will “consider” the proposal.
The Government has opted in to previous asylum rules, including the Dublin system and the EU’s September 2015 emergency relocation scheme.
As part of that scheme, Ireland has committed to taking in 2,620 migrants out of a total of 160,000 the EU intends to move from Italy and Greece to other EU countries. So far 1,111 people have been relocated under the scheme, 10 of them to Ireland.
Only 3,276 people applied for asylum in Ireland last year, with 152 people accepted. Most asylum seekers in the EU head for Germany, which processed 441,800 — 36% — of the bloc’s 1.2m asylum applications last year.
The commission’s proposal comes just over two weeks after the bloc agreed a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants arriving across the Aegean Sea to Greece. The commission claims the deal has reduced the numbers of illegal migrants arriving in Greece from a daily average of around 2,000 last month to 339 last Sunday.
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