Documents considered by the Committee on 18 November 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


8 Managing the refugee crisis: a further update

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; relevant to the debate recommendation on the Commission Communication, A European Agenda on Migration (decision reported 21 July 2015); drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee
Document detailsCommission Communication: Managing the refugee crisis — State of play of the implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration
Legal base
DepartmentHome Office
Document Numbers(37190), 13121/15 + ADDs 1-9, COM(15) 510

Summary and Committee's conclusions

8.1 Since the beginning of 2015, the International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 760,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to reach European shores, and more than 3,400 have lost their lives.[50] As winter approaches, the number of crossings continues to increase, exceeding 218,000 in October alone, roughly equivalent to the total number for 2014. Migration on this scale has exposed weaknesses in the ability of the EU and Member States to manage migration effectively whilst also respecting their international obligations towards those who cannot safely stay in, or be returned to, their own countries. In May, the Commission published a Communication setting out A European Agenda on Migration which proposed a series of actions to address the immediate humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and a range of longer-term measures to lay the foundations for a "fair, robust and realistic" EU migration policy. We recommended that the Communication, and various related measures, should be debated on the floor of the House.[51]

8.2 In October, we considered a further Commission Communication reviewing the action taken since May to implement the European Agenda on Migration and identifying a range of actions, comprising operational measures, budgetary support, implementation of EU law, and new legislative initiatives, which should be given priority over the next six-month period.[52]

8.3 This latest Commission Communication was published shortly before EU leaders met on 15 October with a view to informing their discussions on the refugee crisis. It describes the progress made in implementing actions already agreed and highlights areas in which further efforts are needed (summarised in an Annex at the end of this chapter). It also signals the Commission's intention to put forward proposals, before the end of 2015, to develop "a fully operational European Border and Coast Guard" to provide the support needed to restore stability at the EU's external borders and to "bring the EU's migration system back into an orderly approach where the rules are properly applied and the system is robust enough to react to the inevitable peaks in migration".[53]

8.4 The Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) welcomes the information provided by the Commission and describes the contribution being made by the UK.

8.5 The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has convened a further meeting of EU leaders — the fifth since April — to take place on 12 November. Its purpose is to review the progress made in implementing measures already agreed by the EU and to discuss strengthening controls at the EU's external borders. The letter of invitation sent to EU leaders makes clear that "if we are to avoid the worst we must speed up our actions".[54] It reflects widespread concern that implementation is lagging far behind the commitments made previously by EU leaders and justice and home affairs ministers to address the refugee crisis.

8.6 In her response to an Urgent Question on humanitarian aid for refugees in Greece and the Balkans on 3 November, the Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening) said that the UK had committed "nearly £25 million to support refugees arriving in Europe as well as those on the journey in north Africa" in addition to £1.1 billion of support for Syrians remaining in the region.[55] She announced that the UK would deploy a new ship — VOS Grace — to support Frontex efforts in providing search and rescue facilities in the Mediterranean. She also highlighted UK support for key international agencies, notably UNHCR, the Red Cross and the International Organisation for Migration.

8.7 Whilst acknowledging this contribution, we ask the Minister to provide further information on the Government's response to the appeals for support contained in the Communication. In particular, we ask him to explain whether the Government has provided, or intends to provide, additional support to Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office, and whether it has notified the assets it is willing to make available this year to support refugees under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. We also ask the Minister whether (and, if so, how much) the UK intends to contribute to the EU Regional Trust Fund for Syria and the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

8.8 The Minister reiterates the Government's opposition to the EU's relocation policy. The UK has not opted into the Council Decisions providing for the relocation from Greece and Italy of 160,000 individuals in clear need of international protection. We remind him of the commitment he made, during his oral evidence session with the Committee on 14 October, to provide a note explaining whether, notwithstanding the UK's opt-out, the UK is making a financial contribution towards the implementation of the EU's relocation policy.

8.9 We note the Commission's assertion that "key deficiencies behind the effective suspension of Dublin transfers [to Greece] are being addressed — with reception facilities being expanded and a return being made to a robust system of asylum processing" and its intention to assess the situation by the end of November with a view to reinstating Dublin transfers.[56] This contrasts with observations published by UNHCR less than a year ago (before the huge surge in arrivals during 2015) which, whilst acknowledging that significant improvements had been made, concluded that Governments should continue to refrain from returning asylum seekers to Greece. UNHCR highlighted, in particular, inadequacies in reception facilities, scarce accommodation and insufficient services to meet the needs of asylum-seekers, especially the most vulnerable.[57] In light of these concerns, and the scale of the arrivals in Greece (estimated at more than 600,000 this year),[58] we ask the Minister whether he considers that it would be appropriate to resume Dublin transfers to Greece.

8.10 Finally we would welcome some indication of the Government's view on the Commission's intention to publish proposals before the end of the year to develop "a fully operational European Border and Coast Guard".

8.11 Pending the Minister's reply, the Communication remains under scrutiny. We draw it to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee.

Full details of the documents: Commission Communication: Managing the refugee crisis — State of play of the implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration: (37190), 13121/15 + ADDs 1-9, COM(15) 510.

Background

8.12 The Communication informed discussions amongst EU leaders at a meeting of the European Council on 15 October. Conclusions were agreed which provided "further orientations" to guide action in three areas:

·  Stronger cooperation with third countries to address the root causes of migration and stem migratory flows;

·  More effective management and protection of the EU's external borders; and

·  Improving the EU's response to the influx of refugees, through the creation of "hotspots" and the implementation of commitments on relocation and resettlement, and ensuring the return of individuals with no right to remain in the EU.[59]

The Commission Communication

8.13 The Communication takes stock of the operational measures agreed so far, encompassing the creation of "hotspots", relocation, resettlement, and return and readmission, and considers the progress made in implementing them. It sets out the financial resources available in 2015 and 2016 to tackle the refugee crisis and describes the action being taken by the Commission to ensure the effective implementation of EU asylum laws and strengthen cooperation with third countries of origin and transit.

HOTSPOTS

8.14 Six hotspots have been identified in Italy. The first, in Lampedusa, was opened at the end of September. A further five hotspots have been identified in the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos.[60] All are expected to be operational by the end the year. Hotspots pinpoint sections of the EU's external border where additional support, provided by Migration Management Support Teams, is needed to deal with exceptional migratory pressures. EU Agencies, notably Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Europol and Eurojust, form the core of the Support Teams, working in close cooperation with local authorities in the host Member States. The Teams help to screen and register recent arrivals, identifying those with clear protection needs who may be eligible for relocation, and those who should be returned to their country of origin. The Communication notes that Frontex and EASO have both appealed for additional personnel and technical equipment, but that the commitments made by Member States so far "fall far short of the real needs".[61] The Commission urges Member States to respond "positively, concretely and quickly to these calls".[62]

RELOCATION

8.15 Following the agreement reached in September to relocate 160,000 individuals in clear need of international protection from Greece and Italy, the Communication notes that the first relocation of 19 Eritreans from Italy to Sweden took place in early October, but adds that "relocations now need to become systematic, routine business in Italy and Greece" and that "much work is still needed to ensure that a substantial flow of several hundreds of relocations per month quickly follows".[63] It says that making the relocation system operational is essential to establish trust and overcome the reluctance of asylum seekers to register claims for international protection in frontline Member States. Since effecting the first relocations, the numbers wishing to register in Italy has increased. All participating Member States (the UK has not opted into the crisis relocation mechanism) are urged to provide the Commission with clear commitments as to the number of relocated individuals they are able to receive up until the end of 2015 and to ensure that they have adequate reception capacity.

RESETTLEMENT

8.16 In July, Member States collectively agreed, through a mixture of national and multilateral schemes, to resettle more than 22,000 individuals in clear need of international protection by the end of 2016.[64] Resettlement of 132 Syrians from neighbouring countries in the region has already taken place (Italy has resettled 96, the Czech Republic 16 and Liechtenstein 20). The Communication asks Member States to specify how many people they will resettle (and from where) over the next six months.

RETURN AND READMISSION

8.17 The Communication calls for the frequency of return operations to be increased in line with the EU Action Plan on Return, which was endorsed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in October, and for existing readmission agreements with third countries to be applied effectively.[65] Talks are underway to ensure that returns from Greece to Pakistan (under an existing EU/Pakistan Readmission Agreement) can be resumed shortly. The Communication also notes that Member States have agreed to deploy European Migration Liaison Officers to eleven key countries of origin and transit by the end of 2015.

OTHER OPERATIONAL SUPPORT MEASURES

8.18 The Communication reminds Member States that other operational support measures are available but have not been fully exploited. They include the deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams ("RABITs") at pressure points at the EU's external border[66] and the activation of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.[67] The Commission reiterates an earlier request to Member States to identify assets which can be held ready to deploy this year to help refugees. It also notes that assets made available by Member States to support Operations Triton and Poseidon in the Mediterranean are still "far short of what is needed".

BUDGETARY SUPPORT MEASURES

8.19 The Communication describes the changes agreed to the EU budget for 2015, as well as those proposed for the 2016 budget, which would increase the resources available to tackle the refugee crisis by an additional €1.7 billion (£1.1 billion), bringing the total funding to €9.2 billion (£6.4 billion) in 2015 and 2016. It reminds Member States of the commitments made by their leaders at the informal European Council meeting on 23 September to increase their national contributions to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies, and to the EU's Regional Trust Fund for Syria (the "Madad Fund") and the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. The Commission notes that over 80% of the additional funding requested for UNHCR and WFP has been pledged by only two Member States — the UK and Germany — and that a significant funding shortfall remains for the Trust Funds.[68] It adds:

    "Financial resources are an indispensable part of how we can both address the immediate plight of refugees and start to tackle the root causes. It is imperative that the shortfall between the needs identified by the European Council and the reality of what just a few Member States have so far pledged is swiftly addressed."[69]

IMPLEMENTATION OF EU LAW

8.20 The Communication describes the action taken by the Commission to ensure the effective application of EU rules establishing the Common European Asylum System, noting that it is considering, or has launched, a substantial number of infringement proceedings concerning Directives on Asylum Procedures, Reception Conditions and Qualification for international protection, and the Eurodac Regulation (the UK only participates in the latter).[70]

8.21 Given the substantial resources dedicated to addressing deficiencies in Greece's asylum system and improving its reception capacity, the Communication suggests that the barriers preventing Member States from returning asylum seekers under the Dublin rules (following rulings by the Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights) have largely been overcome. It continues:

    "On this basis, the Commission will assess the situation by 30 November 2015 and if all conditions are met, it will recommend to the European Council in December 2015 or in March 2016 to confirm the reinstatement of Dublin transfers to Greece."[71]

8.22 The Commission is also contemplating infringement proceedings in relation to Member States' application of the EU Return Directive (which does not apply to the UK) and has initiated "dedicated dialogues" to explain how to meet the obligation to enforce returns. The Communication notes:

    "Member States should ensure the physical availability of an irregular migrant for return and use detention, as a legitimate measure of last resort, where it is necessary to avoid that irregular migrants abscond."[72]

8.23 The Communication notes that the Commission is concluding its assessment of the reasons given by three Member States — Germany, Austria and Slovenia — for prolonging the period during which they have applied temporary internal border controls and will be adopting an opinion shortly.

THE EXTERNAL DIMENSION

8.24 Building on its earlier Communication, Addressing the refugee crisis in Europe: the role of EU external action, the Commission explains that migration has been placed "at the centre of bilateral, regional and multilateral dialogue" and was a "key theme" at the United Nations General Assembly in September.[73] It notes that "active discussions" are underway with Turkey to agree a detailed Action Plan on Migration[74] and that a High-level Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans Route in October agreed a series of practical steps to foster more effective cooperation. The Valletta Summit on Migration in November will bring together EU and African partners and seek to deliver "tangible action to address the root causes of irregular migration and to ensure orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people".[75]

8.25 Diplomatic initiatives continue, with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy actively involved in efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya and the conflict in Syria. Meanwhile, the EU's military operation in the Southern Mediterranean — EUNAVFOR Med Operation Sophia — has moved to its second phase, operating in international waters to disrupt the business model of people smugglers and human traffickers.

The Minister's Explanatory Memorandum of 2 November 2015

8.26 The Minister (James Brokenshire) welcomes the information contained in the Communication, noting that it provides a useful insight into the progress made so far and the Commission's plans for further budgetary support and legislation.

8.27 He explains that the appeal to Member States to honour their existing pledges for financial support and to provide further resources mirrors that made by UNHCR on 16 October to increase support for Greece to ensure that it has adequate reception, registration and screening processes in place. He continues:

    "The Government is already providing substantial support to help countries in Europe and the Western Balkans tackle the migration crisis, which includes funding through UNHCR, IOM, and the Red Cross. The UK is also looking to provide further support (£335,000) on capacity building for border management and managing migration flows. The UK is also one of the major donors supporting efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries, where the vast majority of refugees remain. We have committed more than £1.1bn — our biggest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. By meeting basic humanitarian needs we are helping more Syrians stay in their home country or build a life in neighbouring countries.

    "Additionally on 13 October, the Government offered in-kind assistance to the government of the Republic of Serbia in response to a request channelled through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The UK has despatched blankets, sleeping bags, and roll mats, which will provide warmth and comfort for up to 11,000 vulnerable people in Serbia as winter approaches.

    "The Government considers the Civil Protection Mechanism to be one of a number of options for ensuring that assistance can be provided by the UK to those affected by the migration crisis.

    "We continue to play a full part in EU asylum management, support the work of the EASO and Frontex, support maritime operations in the Mediterranean, take an active role in international upstream engagement to address root causes of migration, as well as work closely with the relevant States to help tackle organised immigration crime."

8.28 The Minister reiterates the Government's position that relocation is not the right response to the refugee crisis. He says that the Government will play close attention to the action taken by the Commission to ensure that EU laws on asylum and returns are properly implemented.

Previous Committee Reports

None, but the following Reports concerning the Commission Communication, A European Agenda on Migration, and the Commission Communication, Managing the refugee crisis: immediate operational, budgetary and legal measures under the European Agenda on Migration are relevant: Second Report HC 342-ii (2015-16), chapter 1 (21 July 2015); Fifth Report HC 342-v (2015-16), chapter 32 (14 October 2015) and Seventh Report HC 342-vii (2015-16), chapter 4 (28 October 2015).


50   For the latest data, see the International Organisation for Migration's Missing Migrants update. Back

51   See our Second Report HC 342-ii (2015-16), chapter 1 (21 July 2015). Back

52   See our Fifth Report HC 342-v (2015-16), chapter 32 (14 October 2015). Back

53   See p.15 of the Communication. Back

54   Press release issued on 3 November 2015. Back

55   See Urgent Question, Hansard, 3 November 2015, cols. 876-886. Back

56   See p.12 of the Communication. Back

57   See UNHCR observations on the current situation of asylum in Greece, December 2014. Back

58   See the latest data contained in the IOM's Mediterranean Update. Back

59   See the Conclusions agreed by the European Council on 15 October 2015. Back

60   Further details on the progress made in establishing hotspots in Greece and Italy can be found in ADDs 2-5 annexed to the Communication. Back

61   See p.4 of the Communication. Back

62   See p.3 of the Communication. Back

63   See p.5 of the Communication. Back

64   The commitment made by the UK Government in September to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of this Parliament does not form part of the EU's resettlement effort. Back

65   See our Sixth Report HC 342-vi (2015-16), chapter 9 (21 October 2015). Back

66   Neither Greece nor Italy has requested the deployment of RABITs even though the Commission suggests that the circumstances at their external borders would warrant it. Back

67   The Mechanism has been activated twice to assist Hungary and once to assist Serbia in managing unprecedented migratory flows. Back

68   Pledges made since 23 September 2015 are set out in ADD 7 annexed to the Communication. Back

69   See p.11 of the Communication. Back

70   Further details are contained in ADD 6 annexed to the Communication. None of the infringement proceedings concerns the UK. Back

71   See p.13 of the Communication. Back

72   See p.12 of the Communication. Back

73   See p.13 of the Communication and our Sixth Report HC 342-vi (2015-16), chapter 17 (21 October 2015). Back

74   See our Sixth Report HC 342-vi (2015-16), chapter 1 (21 October 2015). Back

75   See p.15 of the Communication. Back


 
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Prepared 27 November 2015