EU Floats Asylum-System Overhaul to Make Nations Share Load

  • System buckled under influx of 1 million migrants last year
  • Existing rules say refugees must go back to country of arrival

The European Union outlined its road map for overhauling the bloc’s asylum system following its collapse under the pressure of the biggest influx of migrants since World War II, presenting a tentative plan to wrestle control away from national governments.

Two days after a deal to send migrants back to Turkey from Greece came into operation, the EU on Wednesday stepped up its response to the crisis with a proposal to reshape its beleaguered migration management arrangement, which currently gives responsibility for processing an asylum claim to the first European country in which a refugee arrives.

The EU’s asylum system -- known as the “Dublin regulation” -- buckled as about one million migrants arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 and German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that refugees arriving in her country would not be returned. The EU is racing to bring order to the process to help share the burden between nations and install an effective way of sorting genuine asylum-seekers from economic migrants.

“The current system is not sustainable,” European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said in an emailed statement. “We have seen in the ongoing crisis that the Dublin rules have placed too much responsibility on just a few member states.”

Complete Overhaul

One option put forward by the Brussels-based commission would see a complete overhaul of the rules, with all asylum-seekers coming to the EU immediately shared among the bloc’s member countries, no matter where the refugee arrived, according to a calculation adjusted to take into account factors such as the size of each nation.

A less radical option would be to keep the existing model but allow the introduction of the redistribution of asylum seekers throughout the bloc under exceptional circumstances when one country -- like Greece at the moment -- is put under “disproportionate pressure.”

Any attempt to redistribute is likely to prove difficult. An emergency deal struck by EU leaders last year to relocate 160,000 migrants out of Greece and Italy fell into disarray. As of April 4, just 1,011 had been resettled, according to the commission.

The Brussels-based commission, the EU’s executive arm, also raised the prospect of transferring responsibility for the processing of asylum claims from national to EU level, a move that would be likely to be very controversial in many countries. “This would require a major institutional transformation and substantial resources and is therefore difficult to envisage in the short or medium term,” the commission said in a document outlining its proposals.

Asylum Rules

As well as the Dublin regulation reform, the commission put forward plans to harmonize asylum rules across the bloc so that migrants are not attracted to just a few countries, such as Germany, and to prevent “secondary movements” where migrants leave the initial EU country because another becomes more appealing.

“Europe needs to attract talent from abroad to support its economic growth,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in a statement. “Such reforms are a necessary complement to the actions undertaken to reduce irregular flows to and within Europe, and protecting our external borders.”

Timmermans said the commission was planning to decide which option to pursue and propose legislation before the summer. The EU’s 28 national leaders are likely to add their voice to how the system should change at their next summit, scheduled for June.

As the EU continues to search for the best way to deal with the crisis, an agreement leaders struck with Turkey in March to send refugees arriving in Greece back to Turkish territory began operating this week. In an attempt to discourage asylum seekers paying people smugglers and making the perilous journey across the sea, EU authorities are to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey for each migrant sent back from the Greek islands.

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