European Union’s plans tougher migration controls

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive launched a plan on Wednesday for overhauling migration rules in a bid to end years of bitter feuds in the bloc and provide a better welcome for refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa.
It aims to step up returns, including by restricting visas for citizens of countries that refuse to take their nationals back. The EU now receives up to 1.5 million net new foreigners coming legally to live and work per year, compared to 140,000 asylum seekers arriving irregularly. About two-thirds of the latter group is expected to win asylum and should be sent away. The current rate of returns is around 30 per cent.
The plan would also seek to support foreign states in stemming migration before people reach Europe. It would also legally oblige all member states, in exchange for funding from the EU budget, to host some refugees – something rejected by Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and others.
A country would receive 10,000 euros ($11,750) from the bloc’s budget per adult taken in. “We need these people because we are an ageing society,” said the top EU migration official Ylva Johansson.
Endless feuds over where to locate people have caused bad blood between the Mediterranean-shore countries where they mainly arrive, the reluctant easterners, and the richer northern states where many of the newcomers aspire to live. In 2015, more than a million people made it to EU shores, overwhelming security and welfare networks, and fomenting far-right sentiment.
“Migration is complex, the old system to deal with it in Europe no longer works,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Moria is a stark reminder,” she added, referring to a Greek migrant camp destroyed by fire this month. The Commission plans would scratch a rule that the first country of arrival is responsible for asylum requests, which put too much burden on Mediterranean nations.
Under the proposal, those arriving would be assigned to countries based on family links, history of education or work, or having a visa from a member state.
According to the Commission, the EU now receives up to 1.5 million net new foreigners coming legally to live and work per year, compared to only 140,000 asylum seekers arriving irregularly. The plan was criticised by international Catholic charity Caritas, which said it could harm human rights, dilute legal safeguards and lead to more detentions.
It also took flak from countries who would prefer to talk about tightening borders and asylum laws. “We believe that the European Union and its member states must cooperate in keeping the looming migration pressure outside our borders,” said Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs. “Hungary does not support obligatory distribution.”
But, highlighting the persistent divisions, the proposals won approval from Malta.
“Returning those with no right to asylum is crucial. Agree that solidarity must not be optional,” said Prime Minister Robert Abela. The 450-page proposals spanning five different pan-EU laws put emphasis on sending back those who fail to win asylum. Intended to be in place from 2023, the plan also aims to open more legal routes for migrants and work better with countries hosting people before they reach Europe.
It would also put EU countries with external borders under closer monitoring to stop illegal pushing back of people after reports of such action by Hungary, Croatia, Greece and Malta. People saved at sea would be relocated in the bloc – rather than sent back – with charities not criminalised for rescues.
At times of regular immigration, EU states would be obliged to help under the new idea of “mandatory solidarity” by relocating or sponsoring returns, or offering material assistance on the ground in arrival countries. If, however, a country were under major pressure, it could seek to activate a crisis mechanism under which EU peers would be obliged to take people in or send them back. Returns commitments that fail to materialise in eight months – which national migration experts and some EU officials admit is tight – would transform into a relocation obligation, anathema to the easterners. “Bottom line for us is that we might, and very probably will end up with mandatory relocation,” said a senior diplomat from one of the eastern EU countries. — Reuters