Parliamentary Tracker : Establishing an EU migrants resettlement framework

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)

Background

Yesterday, the European Commission and the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, have diffused the 5th Report on the progress made under the Partnership Framework on Migration and implementation of measures to address the situation along the Central Mediterranean Route, in line with the Action Plan on measures to support Italy.

The Partnership Framework on Migration was launched in June 2016 to step up as a priority cooperation with countries of origin and transit in Africa. Measures taken are aimed at saving lives along the migratory routes, increase protection of migrants and refugees, enhance resilience of host communities, address root causes of migration and open up legal ways to Europe for those in need, in particular with more resettlements for refugees.

A legislative proposal regarding the establishment of an EU resettlement framework is currently under discussion.

Towards an EU law on resettlement

Together with relocation, resettlement is recognised by the Council of the European Union as one of the three dimensions of the EU efforts to address the increasing migratory flows. The two others are return, readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants and cooperation with countries of origin and transit to tackle the root causes of migration. During the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting dating back to 20 July 2015, the EU Member States already adopted conclusion on resettling through multilateral and national schemes 22504 displaced persons from outside the EU who are in clear need of international protection.

On 13 July 2016 the European Commission launched a proposal for a EU Resettlement Framework to establish a common European policy on resettlement with the aim of ensuring orderly and safe pathways to Europe for persons in need of international protection. Such a proposal is part of the Commission reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and the long-term policy on better migration management set out by the European Agenda on Migration.

The proposal is intended to provide for a permanent framework with common standard  procedures for resettlement across the EU and should complement current national and multilateral resettlement initiatives, by providing common EU rules on the admission of third-country nationals, procedures in the resettlement process, types of status to be accorded by Member States, decision-making procedures for implementation of the framework and financial support for Member States’ resettlement efforts. According to Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the proposal represents “an integral part of the larger objective of ensuring that protection is offered to those who need it, reducing the incentives for irregular migration and protecting migrants from exploitation by smuggling networks and dangerous journeys to reach Europe”.

The Commission proposal widens the resettlement categories established by the UNHCR, by including persons with socio-economic vulnerability, persons with family links to third-country nationals, stateless persons or Union citizens legally resident in a Member State. Such a new framework will allow for two types of standard resettlement procedures: ordinary and expedited. Under the ordinary procedure, Member States will identify third-country nationals or stateless persons in a third country and assess whether they fall within the scope of a targeted resettlement scheme. With a positive decision, they can grant those persons refugee status or subsidiary protection status.

The expedited procedure is used in case of specific humanitarian grounds or urgent legal or physical protection needs, which justify rapid admission of third-country nationals or stateless persons to the territory of a Member State. The persons are granted subsidiary protection status and should be able to apply for international protection once admitted to a Member State. Member States will be entitled to €10 000 from the EU budget for each person they resettle. Nevertheless, they will only receive these funds when resettling through the Union Resettlement Framework. Resettlements under national schemes will not be supported financially by the EU budget.

The Commission proposal does not provide for a distribution key. Member States are given the possibility to decide how many persons they will resettle each year. Furthermore, it does not specify the scale of resettlement and the regions or third countries from which resettlement will take place, but it indicates that preference will be given to third countries which cooperate effectively with the EU in the field of migration and asylum, notably a third country’s efforts to reduce the number of irregular migrants coming to the EU from its territory, their cooperation on return and readmission and their capacity build-up for reception and protection. The proposal also includes grounds for exclusion of third-country nationals or stateless persons from the resettlement scheme, including those who have irregularly stayed, irregularly entered or attempted to irregularly enter the territory of the Member States during the five years prior to resettlement.

The proposal falls under the ordinary legislative procedure. In the European Parliament, it was assigned to the LIBE Committee under the rapporteurship of Malin Björk (GUE/NGL – Sweden). The draft report was presented before the LIBE Committee on 12 April 2017.

According to the draft report, resettlement should be recognised as complementary to other legal and safe routes to international protection, such as humanitarian visas, extended family reunification and humanitarian admission programmes. The EU resettlement framework should also complement other international structures for resettlement and build upon the work of the UNHCR, as well as support Member States’ national resettlement programmes. The draft report also provides that the EU resettlement framework should not depend on third countries’ cooperation on migration but should instead be based on humanitarian needs, contribute to global resettlement needs and serve as a protection tool.

As regards concrete numbers, the EU Member States host 8 % of the world’s refugees, which, according to the rapporteur, is few compared to other developed countries and not enough to reduce the burden on developing countries. The rapporteur therefore suggests that the EU framework should target the resettling of at least 25 % of the annual projected global resettlement needs as defined by the UNHCR. With regard to resettlement as a durable solution, the draft report suggests Member States should provide resettled persons with residence permits of permanent or unlimited validity, on terms that are more favourable than provided for in the current legislation.

After the presentation of the draft report, the shadow rapporteurs expressed the position of their political parties as well.

According to Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra (shadow rapporteur for the EPP – Spain), a clear distinction between relocation and resettlement should be included in the report to prevent from confusion and overlapping definitions. In his opinion, it is very important that the EU commitment is fully supported by the civil society and the private sector and Member States should be encouraged to implement their resettlement programs through a number of incentives.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) talked on behalf of Katy Piri (shadow rapporteur for the S&D – the Netherlands). According to her, resettlement is the only way possible to help people in need and prevent them from entering through illegal channels or smuggling networks. This fully reflects the EU humanitarian approach, which is intended to grant protection to people fleeing war and persecution through legal and safe pathways.

Helga Stevens (shadow rapporteur for the ECR – Belgium) said that the ECR group was going to present a huge number of amendments. She believes, however, that constructive consultations are possible and that the shadow meetings should focus on existing resources in order to think about a resettlement framework in a more practical way.

Cecilia Wikström (ALDE – Sweden) talked on behalf of Louis Michel (shadow rapporteur for the ALDE, Belgium). According to her, the European Parliament should work in a constructive way to create a mechanism based on equal sharing of responsibilities between Member States, with the aim of increasing the number of legal entry avenues for people in need of international protection.

According to Ignazio Corrao (shadow rapporteur for the EFDD – Italy), resettlement is a fundamental humanitarian tool to manage migration flows and the EU should reinforce its cooperation with third countries and work on practical numbers to understand the real proportion of this challenge. In his opinion, resettlement can be used to promote family reunification, but only as an element of last resort when family reunification channels cannot be applied.

The proposal on the EU resettlement framework was presented by the Commission at the meeting of the Asylum Working Party of the Council on 29 September 2016. On that occasion, a first exchange of views took place and serious concerns were raised on certain issues such as the mandatory character of resettlement schemes, the legal basis of the proposed act and the inclusion of internally displaced people (IDPs) among the categories that could benefit from resettlement. The Asylum Working Party finalised a first detailed article-by-article examination of the proposal on 17 January 2017. A second round of examination took place on 2 March 2017 and additional concerns were expressed with respect to the definition of resettlement and the possibility to include other forms of humanitarian admission, the admissibility criteria as well as the procedure that will be used for resettlement. Some delegations also voiced concerns regarding the Commission’s right to adopt delegated acts to complement some elements of the procedure.

Civil society organisations and international actors have expressed their support to the establishment of a framework for a structured and coordinated approach to resettlement within the EU, since they believe that such a framework can ensure greater participation and commitment towards resettlement from Member States and allow the EU to contribute more meaningfully towards global resettlement. However, they have raised serious concerns with respect to key aspects of the proposal. These concerns relate primarily to the way resettlement may be instrumentalised to encourage countries to cooperate on migration control and deterrence of irregular arrivals, but also to eligibility and exclusion criteria which potentially exclude many categories of refugees in need of resettlement, including vulnerable cases and those with no other solution in sight.

According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the fact that the proposal makes clear reference to the Partnership Framework risks making resettlement “a partnership activity” instead of a humanitarian programme that provides durable solutions for the most vulnerable. Inspired by the EU-Turkey deal that offers resettlement as a quid pro quo, the resettlement framework risks instrumentalising resettlement to exert leverage on partner countries. Amnesty International has strongly objected to resettlement becoming instrumental to the objective of migration deterrence and returns as well. The NGO is also concerned that the proposal would entrench EU-wide ineligibility criteria which aim to discourage irregular movement to and within the EU, since it is based on definitions and unfair grounds for exclusion

The Visegrad Four countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – have made no secret that they are trying to oppose the new relocation and resettlement schemes and put forward by the European Commission. Although the Visegrad countries have different position on the refugee crisis and there is political position among them, with Poland and Hungary being more resistant and the Czech Republic and Slovakia more open to the Commission proposal, all four countries argue that asylum seekers are not interested in long-term stays in Central or Eastern Europe and would seek to move to wealthier EU Member States. They challenge the new asylum policy and in particular the replacement of the defunct Dublin system and the quota system on migrant resettlement and relocation, claiming that the such reforms violate their national sovereignty.

With the need to reinstate a genuine mutual trust among Member States as a precondition for finding a shared solutions to the relocation impasse and to the migration challenge, an intra EU convergence on relocation and resettlement is crucial. Faced with the Visegrad countries’ resistance to relocation and resettlement schemes, the European Commission should definitely   decide to proceed with the adoption of a clearer “carrot and stick” approach: if Member States want to enjoy the benefits of the Schengen system, they also need to accept the responsibilities of formulating a common migration and asylum policy.

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