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MEDITERRANEAN MIGRANT CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

EU tells France to open border to 9,000 migrants

The European Commission laid out on Wednesday its controversial emergency measure to relocate tens of thousands of migrants around Europe. France was asked to open its doors over 9,000 refugees over the next two years.

EU tells France to open border to 9,000 migrants
Photo: AFP

Despite opposition from France and other countries around Europe the Commission published on Wednesday details of how it plans to deal with the mass migration crisis facing Europe.

The headline measures, which will no doubt kick up a storm in some EU countries, features Brussels laying out plans for EU countries to open its doors to around 60,000 refugees – 40,000 who have arrived or due to arrive in Italy and Greece and another 20,000 from outside the EU.

“With today’s proposals the Commission is turning words into action and setting out immediate and long-term responses to the migration challenges that Europe faces,” read the commission’s statement.

The unprecedented emergency measure by Brussels will see 40,000 refugees (only 40 percent of the total of migrants arriving in Greece and Italy) that will make it to Italy and Greece in order to relieve the pressure on those two countries.

The Commission's mandatory relocation scheme which will apply to refugees from Syria and Eritrea, is only intended for those “in clear need of international protection” and will be put in place for two years.

With each country effectively given a quota, France has been told to take in 4,000 migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East who have arrived in Italy and another 2,700 that have spilled across the border into Greece – meaning almost 7,000 in total.

That compares to Germany which has been set a quota of 8,700 from the two countries and Sweden which must take in around 1,300 migrants from Italy and Greece.

The quotas were worked out on a special calculation that looked at each country's population size, GDP, unemployment rate and the number of refugees it had already accepted.

SEE ALSO: Migrant camps spring up in heart of Paris

 

A financial incentive of €6,000 for each migrant has been offered to member states. Britain has already said it will exercise its right to opt out from the relocation scheme, and Ireland and Denmark are also expected not take part.

The proposals also include a second highly controversial measure to resettle an extra 20,000 migrants across Europe over the two years by giving them permanent protection in the form of asylum.

This measure will apply to refugees not yet inside the European Union, who may be living in camps in Turkey or Lebanon. This is expected to be on a voluntary basis.

When it comes to the Commission's resettlement plan, France’s quota has been set at 2,375 over the next two years – which will apply to those migrants most at risk identified by the UNHCR.

That compares to Germany's quota of 3,000 migrants and the UK's target of 2,300.

The Commission says €50 million is available to fund the resettlement of migrants around the continent.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Everyone who needs sanctuary should find it in Europe. But those who have no justified claim should be quickly identified and returned to their home country. This is essential for migration policies to be well accepted in society.”

 

 

Only last week French president François Hollande said he was against any kind of migrant quotas, echoing concerns raised in both Spain and the UK.

“”People who come because they think that Europe is a prosperous continent, even when they are not hired by companies… must be escorted back, that's the rule,” said Hollande.

“So one cannot talk of quotas, there can't be quotas for these migrants,” he said, adding that quotas for  “the right to asylum” would not make sense.”
 
The commissions proposals also laid out its plans to tackle migrant smugglers, which include cooperating to highlight suspicious vessels and making sure traffickers cannot use social media to advertise their activities.
 
 

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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