It is a pleasure for us to introduce the first edition of a brief Migration Policy Watch, which has been designed for the European policy-makers, journalists, and experts. Considering the dynamic development of migration crisis and various efforts to find political solutions, we believe it might be difficult to follow all the current events and developments, moreover to distinguish important issues from those less relevant. That is the aim of this brief.
It is brought to you by the Migration Policy Task Force of the European Values Think-Tank based in Prague. Our team combines expertise of EU policy specialists, lawyers, political scientists, geographers and sociologists, who follow developments on daily basis and look deeper than just at newspaper headlines. We hope that you will appreciate this service. Likewise we will be grateful for any comments and feedback.
Director of European Values Think-Tank
MIGRATION IN NUMBERS
- In March 2016, 30,500 refugees came into the EU via the Mediterranean and Aegean. For the first three months of 2016, 165,000 refugees came to the EU by the sea using the most frequent routes. After so-called central Mediterranean route, 14,500 refugees have arrived to Italy since the beginning of the year. The so-called eastern Mediterranean route (which follows on the Western Balkan route) nearly150,000 refugees came to Greece. During the first three months of 2015, 23,000 refugees came along these routes which is only fraction compared to this year. However, while the trend in 2015 was rising, the number of arrivals in 2016 is gradually declining.
- The number of illegal immigrants coming from Turkey to Greece in recent days experienced a significant decline. After starting the return mechanism and “one for one” in recent days there were only tens to a few hundred refugees incoming. In previous weeks of 2016 a daily average of incoming refugees to Greece was 2,000.
- 280 million EUR, is according to the Commission, the estimated cost of six months implementation of agreement between EU – Turkey.
Development in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 2015:
EUROSTAT ISSUED A REPORT ON MIGRATION NUMBERS FOR THE YEAR 2015
According to Eurostat a record 1,225,600 asylum seekers submitted their first application for asylum in the EU in 2015. Germany accounted for most of the applications, there were 441,800 (35 %) in total. Hungary followed with 174 4000 (14 %) but from there thousands of asylum seekers traveled to Germany where it accepted mainly registered Syrians. Germany also did not apply the Dublin regulation towards Hungary during what is known as the open-door policy but rather enforced the rhetoric of burden sharing and solidarity with the then overworked Hungary. 156,100 (12 %) refugees submitted its first request in Sweden, 85 500 (7 %) in Austria, 83200 (7 %) in Italy and 70,600 (6 %) in France. Most of the applications across the EU were submitted by Syrians – 362 775 (29 %), followed by Afghans with 178,230 requests (14%) and Iraqis with 12,535 requests (10 %). Towards the end of 2015, a total of 923,000 applications had not been processed.
The chart compares the number of first filed asylum applications in 2015 according to nationality:
OUR COMMENTARY: To properly analyze the situation it is important to monitor what political consequences last year’s numbers (1.2 million applicants) will cause. If the migratory pressure stays at current or higher levels, we could expect major changes on the political map in some European countries (such as growing preferences of Marine Le Pen, measurable impact on the Brexit/Bremain debate, or indeed a tangible increase in far-right parties and movements).
EUROPEAN COUNCIL SUMMIT AND THE AGREEMENT WITH TURKEY
On 17th to 18th March, summit of EU prime ministers, head of EU states and Turkey took place in Brussels, discussing how to work together on resolving the migration crisis. The emerging agreement between EU and Turkey was particularly problematic for Cyprus, Bulgaria, but also for France, Hungary, Austria and Spain. EU leaders during Thursday managed to reach a compromise agreement across Member States, and on 18th March presented a draft agreement to Turkey. The result of the summit was the Conclusions of the European Council and the Joint statement of the EU and Turkey. Among other things, the Commission issued on March 16th a Communication on procedural steps for EU – Turkey cooperation.
OUR COMMENTARY: Even if the EU agreement with Turkey starts working, there is need to focus on other migration routes. We can expect a shift of migration pressure over Libya to Italy, possibly through Bulgaria. Once Italy finds itself under strong migration pressure, the political problem will be even bigger, because the rest of the EU can´t deal with Italy the same way as with a politically weaker Greece.
Returns to Turkey
The agreement is based on the return of all illegal migrants, and according to the new parameters, also return of inadmissible asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey. This mechanism is understood only as an exceptional and temporary for the establishment of public order and to put an end to the current situation in the Aegean Sea. The mechanism began on Sunday 20th March.
The agreement aims to stop the migration route across the Aegean Sea, with aim to terminate migrant´s risky journeys and to destroy the migration network business (in accordance with the Europol report, in 2015, 90% of irregular migrants used on their way to Europe the service of migration networks, the profits of these networks is estimated at3-6 billion EUR only in 2015).
Migration routes from Turkey to Greece through the Aegean Sea:
From the legitimacy and legality perspective, the return is now based on a bilateral readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey (which according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – UNHRC does not provide sufficient guarantees for human rights and the non-refoulement principle) and the Greek recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. In practice, all migrants entering the Greek Islands will be registered, and those who do not submit an application for asylum or whose application is found to be unjustified (Turkey is seen as the first country to provide adequate form of protection or under Greek legislation as a safe third country, as for example in the case of Syrians) will be repatriated to Turkey. To comply with established human rights and the principle of non-refoulement, all applications for asylum are processed individually.
From 1st June 2016, Turkey should accept citizens of third countries on the basis of the readmission (which came into force on 1st October 2014), and the EU agreement is prioritized over the bilateral agreement. The original arrangements, regarding repatriation of third country citizens (i.e. Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others) on the basis of the readmission agreement should come into effect on 1st October 2017. On the basis of the Joint Action Plan EU – Turkey on cooperation in solving migration crisis, the EU promised Turkey acceleration of the process of visa liberalization (under condition of fulfilment all conditions) Turkey will begin to implement this part of agreement on 1st June, 2016. The cost of these return operations will be covered by the EU.
The principle of one for one
On 20th March, Greece began to return all illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whose application was found to be baseless to Turkey (which should be according to the new concept case for majority of Syrians, as mentioned above). For every Syrian citizen returned from Greece to Turkey will be a Syrian citizen resettled from Turkey to the participating European countries. Resettlement will be a priority to those refugees who entered the EU legally neither they tried to enter illegally. For this resettlement, the remaining capacity, which is approximately 18,000 based on the resettlement mechanism which was already agreed (on the basis of the Conclusions of the Council from 20th July 2015, the Member States consensually agreed to resettle 22,504 refugees from third countries). Furthermore, the reserves as defined in the second relocation mechanism of transfer of 120 000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, will be used. This reserve includes 54,000 spots and was created after Hungary was voluntarily excluded from second relocation mechanism and originally it was supposed to be used if necessary by other Member State (amendment needed). To use that reserve for resettlement from Turkey, for this purpose, the European Commission has published on 21st March a proposal to amend the second relocation mechanism. Together under the existing commitments, it is possible to resettle 72,000 Syrian refugees from Turkey. The European Council explicitly expressed that if the number of returnees Syrians exceeded 72,000 thousand, and based on the principle of “one for one” Member States were to accept a more Syrian refugees from Turkey, this mechanism will be terminated.
OUR COMMENTARY: Now is the time to think through what the EU will do after the limit of 72,000 is exhausted. If the mechanism is well implemented, which should be in interest of all parties involved, the number of 72,000 is possible to meet in a few months. From Turkey we can then expect further demands. An internal menu of options for the EU should be developed briefly.
The emergence of new migration paths
In connection with the closing of the Balkan route and with the cooperation of EU and Turkey in the Aegean Sea, questions about the possible emergence of new migration routes have arisen. Bulgaria is particularly worried by this development, as refugees would try to get from Turkey via Black sea. Turkey has pledged to take all necessary measures to prevent the emergence of new routes of illegal migration from Turkey to the EU, both terrestrial and marine. Active prevention of emergence of migration routes together with the reduction of the number of people trying to illegally get into the EU is an important determinant for the humanitarian resettlement from Turkey to the EU.
During negotiation of the Joint action plan EU-Turkey, Chancellor Merkel promised Turkey humanitarian resettlement from Turkey into the EU to those persons who have been displaced by the conflict in Syria. Which countries will be involved in this humanitarian resettlement is not yet determined. Humanitarian resettlement would be entirely voluntary, the premise is the participation of countries particularly in Western Europe, which are more open for the resettlement of refugees to their country (as is the case of Great Britain, which refused to participate in the relocation mechanisms on the basis of its exceptions, so called „Opt out“, in matters of justice and home affairs, but then in July Great Britain decided to participate in the EU resettlement mechanism and in September last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the country will resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020). Agreement between the EU and Turkey stipulates that once the illegal crossing of borders between Turkey and the EU will come to an end or at least will be reduced, a program of voluntary admission of persons on humanitarian grounds will start. If, according to participating States, this program won´t lead to significant reduction of number of illegal crossing of the border from Turkey to EU, these countries can decide on the immediate suspension of the program or to reduce the number of resettled persons.
The number of refugees that would be resettled depends on UNHCR’s capacity to process resettlement cases, the number of displaced persons who reside in Turkey, including the impact of the sustainable reduction in the number of people illegally crossing the border from Turkey into EU. Humanitarian resettlement is an important positive motive for the activity of Turkey in the prevention of illegal border crossing from Turkey to the EU and preventing new migration routes, because the results of these activities will be non-decreasing (with the arrival of refugees on the contrary increasing) number of refugees in Turkey, and is therefore an important support measure for the agreement between the EU and Turkey.
As for this mechanism, the Commission states in its Recommendation for a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey, once the implementation of the resettlement program in Turkey is underway, efforts on resettlement should also focus on Jordan and Lebanon.
Visa liberalization with Turkey
For faster implementation of the readmission of third country citizens by Turkey on the basis of the readmission agreements between EU – Turkey, EU has promised to speed up the process of visa liberalization. Turkey is, however, still required to meet all 72 requirements for the final visa-free relations. So far, 35 requirements are fulfilled. The aim is visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens for short-term tourist Schengen visa for 90 days. If progress in fulfilling the remaining requirements from Turkey will be satisfactory, the Commission shall submit a legislative proposal to abolish visa requirements for citizens of Turkey at the end of April 2016.
Opening of other chapters of accession talks with Turkey has been a big issue especially for Cyprus, whose relations with Turkey have been problematic for a long time.
Due to relations between Cyprus and Turkey, the European Council is also blocking a series of chapters (chapter 1, 3, 9, 11, 13, 14, 29, 30).
Before the summit on 17th to 18th March, Cyprus announced that the draft agreement, according to which the 5 out of 6 chapters blocked by Cyprus should be open, would not be supported by Cyprus (Consensus of 28 states was necessary for agreement with Turkey) European Council President Donald Tusk visited Cyprus before the summit. At the very summit, EU leaders agreed on a compromise proposal which was presented to Turkey on 18th March. The outcome of the negotiations was an agreement on further cooperation between the two parties.
So far, on the basis of the autumn Action Plan EU – Turkey, the Chapter 17 – Economic and monetary policy was opened on 14th December 2015, followed by opening the Chapter 33 – Financial and budgetary measures on 18th March, which had been blocked by France. This chapter should be opened during the Dutch Presidency, which means until 30th June 2016.
From the 35 chapters, Turkey has opened 15 chapters, while successfully concluded was only 1 (Chapter 25 – Science and Research).
European Council declaration states that the preparatory work for the opening of further chapters will continue at an accelerated pace, without prejudice to positions of Member States in accordance with existing rules.
Overview and state of chapters of Turkey’s accession talks on 8th January, 2016:
CRITICISM OF THE AGREEMENT between EU and Turkey: UN and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) criticized the method and principle of operation of the return system and the “one for one”, to which the EU agreed with Turkey in mid-March.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticizes the principle of “one for one” because Greece does not have a functioning system of assessing asylum applications on any of their islands and does not have sufficient and adequate accommodation for asylum seekers. UNHCR refused to continue to assist in transporting refugees from coast to reception centers. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers are being held in detention against their will. Before implementing an agreement with Turkey, refugees could mainly continue from the island of Lesbos by ferries to mainland Greece, where they mostly took the western Balkan route to Europe.
“One for one” scheme began to be applied on March 20th. In practice, the refugees are transported from the coast (with assistance of UNHCR) to hotspots, where sufficient examination of an asylum application for implementation of this scheme will be carried out. At the hotspots the asylum seekers are identified, registered and placed in a facility, and while they are in an accelerated procedure individually processed and evaluated applications for international protection, applicants are fully limited in their freedom of movement, meaning that they will stay in detention until their application is assessed. UNHCR criticism is directed mainly to the fact that the so-called hotspots became a detention centers, and that a return mechanism and “one for one” is implemented prematurely with regard to the capacities and coping on the Greek islands in line with European and international law. Generally UNHCR´s policy is in opposition with the principle of detention. According to MSF, the system is unfair and inhumane, therefore the MSF organization withdrawn from the hotspot on the island of Lesbos.
The legislation specifies two essential, and for this discussion relevant concepts of detention. The first is the detention of asylum seekers (which is set out in Directive laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection), the second is detention of applicants for purpose of their return (so called Return Directive).
The first concept states: “The detention of applicants should be applied in accordance with the underlying principle that a person should not be held in detention for the sole reason that he or she is seeking international protection, particularly in accordance with the international legal obligations of the Member States and with Article 31 of the Geneva Convention.“.
The Return Directive states: „The use of detention for the purpose of removal should be limited and subject to the principle of proportionality with regard to the means used and objectives pursued. Detention is justified only to prepare the return or carry out the removal process and if the application of less coercive measures would not be sufficient“.
The detention is in the EU a long-term issue for the overall functioning of the Common European Asylum System and the newly adopted policies under the European Agenda on Migration. The biggest problem in practice is a “disappearance” of asylum seekers (whether authorized or unauthorized) from the supervisory authorities, causing that these people often end up in the grey zone. In Germany, thus seekers out of a total of 1.1 million refugees who came to Germany in 2015. Detention, besides border permeability, is also an issue for the implementation of relocation mechanisms where the detention or restriction of freedom of movement should help maintain asylum seekers under the control of the Greek and Italian authorities.
OUR COMMENTARY: Criticism UNHCR regarding detention and the situation in Greece is relevant. On the other hand, a new concept of cooperation with Turkey is based on the premise that nearly all applicants for international protection will be, in accordance with the newly used principles, immediately returned to Turkey. From this perspective, there is a pragmatic application of detention in accordance with the Return Directive, but this cause violation of European law and its spirit.
However, based on previous experience it can be concluded that the use of detention is necessary for functioning of the principle of “one for one”. Process with the asylum seekers (identification, registration, taking of fingerprints) and the processing and evaluation of applications for this purpose in an accelerated procedure should be a matter of days. If the conditions in reception centers are decent and of a sufficient capacity, then use of the premise of returning nearly all asylum seekers to Turkey as the first country of asylum or a safe third country is justifiable for the functioning of the system. However, inconsistency of the political decision with the spirit set out by European law cannot be ignored and should be taken account of possible reform of the Common European Asylum System. With regard to experience with secondary movements and disappears of the asylum seekers from the supervisory authorities and with regard to appeal for stronger return policy, extension of use of detention should be considered.
GERMAN INTERION MINISTER PROPOSES TO TIGHTEN RULES FOR STAYING IN THE COUNTRY
According to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, those refugees will not learn German language, reject job offers and will obstruct women and girls in the integration should not be entitled to permanent residence in Germany. Permanent residence in Germany, under the current integration law, is enabled after three years of residence in the country. Minister wants to present amending proposal in May this year. The aim is to link together the efforts of successful integration and the possibility of long-term stay in the country. Furthermore, according to de Maizèire asylum seekers should live in a place designated by authorities until they are able to make a living themselves. The aim of this measure is to prevent the creation of ghettos. According to de Maizière, refugees should reside, where the state deems it appropriate, not where it deems appropriate for refugee. According to the warnings of experts, asylum seekers will be moving to big cities where their relatives or members of their communities live, and where it is also easier to get a job. Maizièr´s proposals are supported by CDU and the other two coalition parties CSU and SDP, arguing that integration should not only be encouraged, but also required, German unions refuse this argument saying that successful integration cannot be enforced by sanctions.
Similar policies are now being approved in Belgium. Migrants, who plan to remain longer than three months, should sign a form about their efforts to learn the official language of the region in which they reside, and efforts to get acquainted with the Belgian society. Otherwise, their application may be rejected. Asylum seekers and students will be excluded from this process. Proposal still must be approved by parliament.
OUR COMMENTARY: Explicitly required political demand of integration towards migrants is exactly what needs to be done. As a part of this version of social contract with the migrant, should be a section where it will be clearly defined, what can´t ever be done in European democratic society – introducing elements of Sharia law, establishing the supremacy of selected elements of religious rules over the state secular law, discrimination against women, Jews or homosexuals. The more precisely these unacceptable phenomena is expressed, the more fair European society acts towards people from different cultures of origin.
GERMANY FEARS REFUGEES RADICALISATION
German authorities registered cases where extremist Islamist groups infiltrate their members into the security companies that operate in reception centers for refugees, or they get to these centers as Arabic translators and “cultural mediators” who are supposed to help refugees integrate into German society. Germany also fears that the Islamic State could use the migration flow to Europe and send terrorist to the country. Domestic intelligence for North Rhine – Westphalia recorded over a hundred cases where members of extremist groups associated with Salafism (Sunni Islamic fundamentalism) tried to break into the shelters and to get new followers. Europol has issued a report on 18th January „Changes in modus operandi of terrorist attacks in IS“. The report states that there is no concrete evidence that members of the Islamic State systematically use the migration flows for entry into Europe. But it notes that refugees heading for Europe, specifically Syrian Sunni Muslims may be the target group for the IS radicalization. IS for the purpose of recruitment and radicalization of vulnerable groups is particularly focusing on refugee centers.
OUR COMMENTARY: This fact points to the unacceptability and danger of the situation, when security forces do not have an accurate overview of events and specific individuals in selected refugee centers. It is a question of center’s capacity, which must be significantly increased. However, Member States such as Germany cannot afford to accept tens of thousands asylum seekers when they do not control of the recently incoming hundreds of thousands people.
UN WANTS TO RESETTLE 450,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES
Until the end of 2018, the United Nations wants to resettle 450,000 Syrian refugees, who are now in the neighbouring countries of Syria, into countries around the world. From the neighbouring region of Syria, which now hosts 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees (especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan) and other countries around the worlds should take a tenth of them. Over 362,000 Syrian refugees came to Europe in 2015. In addition, in Syria there are 13.5 million internally displaced people (i.e. people who had to leave their homes but remain in Syria). From 2013, Western countries have offered to Syrian refugees 179,150 places. For example, during the humanitarian resettlement, 25,000 Syrians were resettled by Canada, 42,000 by Germany. United Kingdom announced last September resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, and last month, UNHCR has asked the United States for resettlement of 32,000 Syrians. According to the UN, the small countries take in Syrians so they can complete their university studies. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admits it will be difficult to overcome widespread fear and political disputes of countries that could resettle the refugees.
Situation in the Syria’s neighbourhood:
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