A plan that would see EU countries being allocated a share of 20,000 refugees in the next year may be acceptable to Ireland according to Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
Ireland, together with Denmark and Britain, has opted out of the EU’s asylum system but it is unclear whether the countries could also opt out of these proposals, which are due to be released tomorrow.
Irish ministers including Europe Minister Dara Murphy and Tánaiste Joan Burton gave it a guarded welcome but said they would have to see the final details and it would be largely a matter for the Department of Justice.
Mr Noonan was in Brussels for a eurozone meeting. He was asked if he thought Ireland would agree to the plan if the numbers were based on population.
“At the level of principle we would like to play a proportionate part because we see the difficulties and see that it is a huge humanitarian issue,” he said.
The numbers to be resettled according to the proposal would be less than 10% of the record number of more than 210,000 that last year survived the crossing from North Africa.
It is designed to ease the pressure on southern European countries including Italy, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus where most arrive. The draft plan says the relocation system would apply to those “in clear need of international protection”.
The document talks of ensuring a “balanced participation by all member states” which is being interpreted as meaning countries would take numbers proportionate to their population.
In Ireland’s case this would be around 200 — the same number of Syrians that have been resettled in the past year in the country.
Sweden, Denmark, and Germany have also taken refugees and would not be required to take any more than they do on a voluntary basis. However other countries including Britain and many Central and Eastern European EU states take very few proportionate to their population.
The scheme would be funded through a €50m fund from the EU over the next year while the frontline countries caring for the bulk of the migrants would be allocated an additional €60m to help with the reception and healthcare costs.
EU seeks UN approval to destroy boats
Quota system would see countries take 10% of refugees
The EU is seeking a mandate from the UN to allow the destruction of boats likely to be used to transport migrants from North Africa to Europe.
The UN’s special representative for migration, Peter Sutherland, warned that about 20,000 people could die in the Mediterranean over the next few months unless urgent measures are taken.
The former Irish European commissioner praised a proposed quota system whereby countries would take about 10% of the existing refugees. The matter is due to be discussed by EU leaders next month.
He backed the UN’s high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres, who demanded the EU put in place a “state-led, robust, proactive, and well-resourced search-and-rescue operation, urgently and without delay, with a capacity similar to Operation Mare Nostrum and a clear mission to save lives”.
Operation Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea” was undertaken by the Italian navy in 2013, but closed last November due to a lack of funds.
The head of the EU’s foreign service, Federica Mogherini told the UN Security Council in New York yesterday that the EU wants a UN mandate to allow them to stop traffickers operating in the Mediterranean. She said “no refugee or migrant intercepted at sea would be sent back against their will”, and told them about half those who reached Europe qualified as refugees.
An estimated 210,000 people crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe last year. At least 3,500 died in their attempts. So far in 2015, about 1,700 have perished.
EU leaders at an emergency summit last month said a priority was to prevent deaths at sea by stopping traffickers from operating. They identified Libya as the weak link due to its lack of a government, and identified war and conflict, including in Syria, as a reason for the illegal migration.
The commission’s draft plan deals with how to put traffickers out of business by seizing or destroying their boats before they leave Libya — which poses major problems both from a legal and operational standpoint. They are hoping to get agreement from the UN Security Council for this.
Each of the five permanent members of the Security Council has a power of veto. Two of these, China and Russia, would be most likely to oppose the plan on migrants. Ms Mogherini was in Beijing last week and believes China will not block a request that would allow the bombing of boats in Libya. She is reasonably confident Russia will not veto it either.
It is believed the Libyan authorities are not in favour and do not want any EU boots on their soil .
The EU also proposes increasing funds, training, and general support to various countries in North Africa to tighten their borders and disrupt land routes to the coast taken by would-be migrants and traffickers.
They also propose setting up a pilot centre in Niger, with the UN and International Organisation for Migration. This would see migrants “given a realistic picture of the likely success of their journeys, and offer assisted voluntary return options for irregular migrants”.
The document also deals with economic migrants and urges an EU centralised applications system, whereby qualified migrants could seek work but final selection and admission would remain under the control of national governments.
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