8 Managing the refugee crisis: a further
|Committee's decision||Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee
|Document details||Commission Communication: Managing the refugee crisis State of Play of the Implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration
|Document Numbers||(37190), 13121/15 + ADDs 1-9, COM(15) 510
Summary and Committee's conclusions
8.1 This Commission Communication was published shortly before
EU leaders met on 15 October one of a series of specially
convened meetings to discuss the refugee crisis. It describes
the progress made in implementing a number of actions set out
in the European Agenda on Migration, which the Commission
presented in May, and highlights areas in which further efforts
are needed. The Communication invites EU leaders to "make
a clear and unambiguous commitment to starting a new phase in
the EU's response to the refugee crisis: one of swift and determined
It reflects a broader concern that implementation is lagging far
behind the commitments made previously by EU leaders and justice
and home affairs ministers to address the crisis.
8.2 We considered the Communication at our meeting
on 18 November. Whilst acknowledging the UK contribution to search
and rescue facilities in the Mediterranean, and the funding given
to international organisations assisting Syrian refugees in the
region, we asked the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire)
to provide further information on the Government's response to
the specific appeals for support contained in the Communication.
We also sought his views on the possible resumption of so-called
"Dublin transfers" of asylum seekers to Greece
these have been suspended since 2010/11 on the grounds that there
were systemic deficiencies in Greece's asylum system
and on the Commission's intention to publish proposals
before the end of the year to develop "a fully operational
European Border and Coast Guard".
8.3 We welcome the Minister's comprehensive response.
We note that the Government is considering how it might make a
further contribution to support the establishment and functioning
of 'hotspots' in Greece and how to respond to the Greek government's
recent request for assistance under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
We ask the Minister to inform us once the Government has decided
on the nature and extent of the UK's contribution.
8.4 The Minister explains that the UK has contributed
"over £1.1 billion" to tackle the crisis in Syria.
None of this funding appears to have been channelled through the
EU's Trust Fund for Syria (established in December 2014). We understand
that the Trust Fund is intended to enable donors to pool their
financial contributions and improve coordination in responding
to a crisis on a regional scale (supporting Syrian refugees and
their host countries in the region). We would welcome a clearer
indication of the Government's view on the value of the Trust
Fund for Syria.
In particular, does the Government consider that it provides an
efficient and effective vehicle for meeting funding needs in Syria
and neighbouring countries, and does it expect to channel future
UK funding through the Fund?
8.5 The Minister draws our attention to rulings
by the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice
of the EU which have had the effect of suspending the return of
asylum seekers to Greece from other Member States since 2011.
His observation that these judgments "continue to prevent
all EU Member States returning asylum seekers to Greece under
the Dublin Regulation until the situation there has improved sufficiently"
does not address the question we asked. The Communication describes
the progress made by Greece as "encouraging" and indicates
that, subject to a further assessment by the end of November 2015,
the Commission may recommend that Dublin transfers to Greece should
be reinstated early in 2016. Given this possibility, we think
it is reasonable to ask the Minister for his assessment of the
situation in Greece and for a clear indication of the Government's
view on the appropriateness of reinstating Dublin transfers in
the near future.
8.6 Turning, finally, to funding arrangements
for the relocation of asylum seekers, we note that the Government
intends to explore "administrative" means for obtaining
reimbursement for EU relocation activities in which the UK does
not participate, as it is unable to obtain a refund from the relevant
EU funding instrument the Asylum, Migration and Integration
Fund in which the UK participates. We ask the Minister
to explain in greater detail the basis for this analysis. Whilst
Article 3 of the UK's Title V (opt-in) Protocol makes clear that
the UK is bound by a measure once it has decided to opt into it,
Articles 2 and 5 of the same Protocol are equally clear that EU
measures which the UK has chosen not to opt into shall not in
any way "affect the competences, rights and obligations"
of the UK and the UK "shall bear no financial consequences"
of such measures other than "administrative costs entailed
for the institutions, unless all members of the Council, acting
unanimously after consulting the European Parliament, decide otherwise".
It would seem that there are two conflicting legal obligations,
the first stemming from the UK's decision to opt into the Asylum,
Migration and Integration Fund, the second from the Government's
subsequent decision not to participate in EU relocation measures
which depend (for their implementation) on the prior EU funding
8.7 We also ask the Minister to explain whether
all EU funding for relocation is to be channelled through the
Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and to identify the relevant
provisions of the Fund and/or the relevant Council Decisions establishing
provisional measures in the area of international protection which
authorise its use for expenditure on relocation. We draw this
chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the
International Development Committee.
8.8 Pending the Minister' reply, the Communication
remains under scrutiny.
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)
Background and previous scrutiny
8.9 Our Ninth Report, listed at the end of this chapter,
summarises the content of the Commission Communication and the
Government's Explanatory Memorandum. We asked the Minister to
provide further information on the following matters:
the Government has provided, or intends to provide, additional
support to the EU's external borders agency (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;
(and, if so, how much) the UK intends to contribute to the EU
Regional Trust Fund for Syria and the Emergency Trust Fund for
despite having decided to opt out of EU measures providing for
the relocation from Greece and Italy of up to 160,000 individuals
in clear need of international protection, the Government is making
a financial contribution to the EU's relocation policy; and
given the scale of the arrivals in Greece (estimated at more than
776,000 this year)
and concerns expressed by the UN Refugee Agency about the adequacy
of reception facilities for asylum seekers, the Government considers
that it would be appropriate to resume Dublin transfers to Greece.
8.10 We also asked the Minister for his initial 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".
The Minister's letter of 11 December 2015
8.11 The Minister expresses the Government's support
for "a comprehensive solution to the crisis", adding:
"This work involves many different strands,
some of which do not necessarily involve the UK due to our non-participation
in the Schengen area. Even so, we have taken an active part in
related operations or provided financial help.
"The situation is constantly changing. The
Government maintains a watch on all developments so that we can
reshape and refresh our offers and share our expertise and resources
with our European partners and with countries further upstream
in a targeted way to ensure the greatest impact. In particular,
we are supporting more effective management of the EU's external
border, joint action on people smuggling, and stronger cooperation
with third countries.
"Securing the EU's external border is key
to addressing this crisis. We want the EU to make better use of
technical solutions in order to ensure the borders both ensure
proper security and management and facilitate legitimate travel.
We continue to believe that practical cooperation enabling Member
States to make best collective use of their resources is the right
approach in this regard."
8.12 The Minister describes the support made available
by the UK for Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO),
and other activities to strengthen the EU's external border:
"The UK has contributed to every major European
Asylum Support Office (EASO) support operation to Greece,
Italy and Bulgaria over the last three years. This means
over 20 missions totalling over 1,000 working days more
than any other Member State. And, at the recent European Council,
the Prime Minister announced that we will provide a further 10
staff to EASO.
"While the UK is not able to participate
in the Frontex Regulation, we continue to provide significant
practical support to the operations of that agency, in particular
through supporting its sea operations and through our Organised
Immigration Crime Taskforce.
"Frontex Operation Poseidon Sea is hosted
by Greece and controls illegal migration flows from the Eastern
Mediterranean (Turkey, Egypt) towards Greece; Operation Triton
is hosted by Italy and controls illegal migration flows from the
Central Mediterranean (Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Greece and Turkey)
towards Italy. The UK strongly supports the scaling up of Poseidon
Sea in order to better manage the illegal migration flows into
Greece, to help ensure migrants are properly received and identified,
and to ensure those with no right of stay are returned swiftly.
Following the recent return of two Border Force cutters that were
deployed to Operation Triton for five months over the summer,
the Home Office has chartered a civilian vessel for six months
to continue our support for search and rescue activities. VOS
Grace has arrived in Greece and will be deployed to Operation
Poseidon Sea until the end of January 2016 once written agreements
have been finalised. From February to April 2016, she will be
deployed to Operation Triton.
"The UK supports substantially increasing
the number of debriefing and screening experts deployed to the
Greek islands as part of Frontex operations. We have offered 60
months of debriefing and screening support through a link up to
our own Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce, which brings together
National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and
CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] expertise, to pursue and disrupt
the organised crime gangs operating across Europe and Africa.
"We are also working to ensure the rapid
implementation of 'Hotspots', in particular through Greece's 'Roadmap'
on their implementation in that country. In my view, rapid implementation
of hotspots is essential both to manage the extraordinary flows
of people currently reaching the EU and to send the right messages
to those thinking of making the journey. The UK is looking at
providing further support to the relevant EASO and Frontex operations
as it will be a huge task to establish the systems and logistics
needed to implement the hotspots in the timeframe required. We
would be pleased to help Greece and Frontex with their work on
establishing headquarters to coordinate hotspots. We are still
considering exactly how we might assist Frontex in this area,
so the exact cost of our activities has not yet been determined.
"Bilaterally, we have provided £2m
to Greece over 2014 and 2015 to fund a voluntary returns programme,
and £600k over three years to fund asylum programmes. DfID
funding to activities in Greece currently stands at £3.9
million; support is now being channelled through organisations
working in support of the Greek government, with programmes including
working with the authorities to improve reception conditions,
access to (and quality of) the asylum determination process, transportation
of newly arriving migrants, distribution of food and non-food
items, the protection of children, and an optimised logistics
system to support all of these."
8.13 The Minister explains how the UK has responded
to calls for assistance made under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism:
"The EU Civil Protection Mechanism (CPM)
is just one of many support mechanisms available to Member States
and other EU countries facing crisis situations. To date, only
Serbia, Slovenia and very recently Croatia and Greece have requested
assistance through the CPM as a result of the migration crisis.
The UK responded to Serbia and Slovenia's calls offering in-kind
assistance to both countries. We are still considering Croatia's
request. The Greek government's request for support through the
CPM was made on 3 December; it is currently being considered by
DfID. The Government's priority is to make sure our responses
are able to add value.
"But we view the CPM as part of a wider
set of contributions to the Europe-wide crisis response; in total
we have contributed £16m to this response thus far. This
includes £2.4m to the International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Serbia will receive a total
of £1.5m: £500,000 via IOM; £923,000 via UNHCR
to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection; and £140,000
through the CPM. Slovenia will receive a total of £150,000,
all of which will go through the CPM. Slovenia, Greece, Serbia,
Macedonia and Croatia will also receive a proportion of £5m
provided through a consortium of NGOs led by the Start Network.
"Greece will receive a total of £4.5m
of this wider crisis funding: £150,000 through IFRC, £3.19m
through UNHCR and £1.05m through IOM to deliver humanitarian
assistance and protection.
"It is also important to bear in mind that
support for these EU operations places a strain on our own resources,
many of which would otherwise be deployed within the UK and at
the UK border. For that reason, we need to exercise caution before
diverting further resource from the UK borders and visa systems
to other purposes. I believe there is more that other Member States
can be doing to support all of this work and the various funding
strands alongside the UK's contribution."
8.14 Turning to the contribution made by the UK to
the EU Regional Fund for Syria and the Emergency Trust Fund for
Africa, the Minister explains:
priority is stronger cooperation with third countries, especially
upstream engagement to mitigate migratory pressures. To support
this, the UK has already promised £2.11m to the EU's new
Africa Trust Fund and £200m of bilateral DfID funding to
support projects in Africa.
"The £200m in bilateral support will
go towards a number of programmes including those designed to
help build more resilience to short term economic and environmental
pressures; humanitarian responses for those displaced by the recent
crises; providing access to services and education; and economic
development programmes to provide jobs, skills and opportunities.
"DfID hopes that the European Union's Syria
Trust Fund is able to play a constructive role in tackling the
Syria crisis. We are actively engaged with the EU and other
Member States to ensure that this is the case, and that the Trust
Fund can act with the urgency that is required. What is clear
is that there is a severe lack of funding for UN Syria appeals.
It is now critical that other Member States step up and provide
further funding to meet immediate needs this year. The UK is already
playing its part our total contribution to the crisis
is over £1.1 billion."
8.15 The Minister notes the rulings by the European
Court of Human Rights in the case of MSS vs Belgium and Greece
(21 January 2011) and the Court of Justice of the European Union
in NS and others vs the UK (21 December 2011) which "continue
to prevent all EU Member States returning asylum seekers to Greece
under the Dublin Regulation until the situation there has improved
8.16 As regards Commission proposals, expected before
the end of the year, to establish "a fully operational European
Border and Coast Guard", the Minister comments:
"The UK is not part of the Schengen area
or a member of Frontex, therefore it is unlikely that the UK will
be participating in any European Border and/or Coast Guard. We
want to see Frontex develop sustainably, whilst recognising that
Member States remain responsible for the operational control of
their own borders. We will be in a better position to assess the
potential implications for the UK of an EU Border Guard when the
Commission issues a more detailed proposal in mid-December. Ahead
of that proposal we are also expecting France and Germany to set
out their views on how to strengthen the external border. Proposals
relating to an EU Coastguard are now off the table due to a lack
of political will."
8.17 Finally, the Minister responds to our request
for information on how the EU's relocation policy will be funded
and the mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not contribute
financially to EU justice and home affairs measures in which it
does not participate:
"You asked us to consider whether it is
possible to seek a refund for the relocation package which the
UK has opted out of. After detailed discussion with HMT, we surmise
that it is not possible to seek a refund from part of the AMIF
[Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund] funding instrument, including
to cover relocation costs. We are opted in to the whole of the
AMIF fund and pay our contributions, as do other Member States.
Once opted into a measure we are in it until it expires or is
superseded by new legislation.
"However, we will continue to work with
HM Treasury to establish if there is an administrative way of
seeking a reimbursement for the relocation activities in which
we do not participate under AMIF when the EU budget reimbursement
process occurs, which takes place with a one-year lag. At present
it looks unlikely we would secure a refund and the opportunity
will not present until end 2017 when the Commission presents its
proposed reimbursements for 2016. A further opportunity to seek
a reimbursement would also arise when the AMIF Regulation is reviewed,
at which point we can press for an amendment which allows us to
be exempt from funding relocation.
"To date, the UK has benefited from participation
in the AMIF. We receive an allocation from the AMIF (370m
for 2014-2020 which equates to £260.4m), the largest EU allocation,
and have received further funds for resettlement (22m for
2014-2015 which equates to £15.48m). The UK contributes about
13% to the EU Budget and the AMIF is about 0.33% of the overall
EU budget. At present the UK is set to receive about 12.6% of
the AMIF budget.
"We have also just 'pledged' for more funding
for further resettlement activity (particularly Syrian VPRS
Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme).
We use the UK allocation to meet our national priorities, of which
returns and resettlement play a major part. Other Member States
also meet their priorities from their allocations.
"We are not opted into the Internal Security
Fund, which is funded from the EU's general Budget. We will receive
a refund on our contribution to these funds, including where the
spending is relevant to the migration crisis."
Previous Committee Reports
Ninth Report HC 342-ix (2015-16), chapter 8 (18 November
101 See p.2 of the Communication. Back
See the judgment of the Court of Justice in Joined Cases C-411/10 and c-493/10. Back
For more details on EU Trust Funds, see the briefing produced
for the European Parliament. Back
See the latest data contained in the IOM's Mediterranean update. Back
For further details, see the Government's fact sheet for local
authorities participating in the programme. Back