Documents considered by the Committee on 6 January 2016 - European Scrutiny Contents

10   Resettlement of refugees within the European Union

Committee's assessment Legally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee
Document detailsCommission Recommendation on a European resettlement scheme
Legal baseArticle 292 TFEU
DepartmentHome Office
Document Numbers(36923), 9376/15 + ADD 1, C(15) 3560

Summary and Committee's conclusions

10.1  The Commission Recommendation, adopted last June, seeks to implement the commitment made by EU leaders in April 2015 to "set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the Union" and to meet the demands of the European Parliament (in a Resolution also agreed in April) for "safe and legal access to the Union asylum system" for those in need of international protection.[75] It provides for the resettlement over a two-year period of 20,000 individuals currently outside the EU who are in clear need of international protection. Its purpose is to address the "significant imbalance" in the efforts made by Member States to provide a safe haven at a time when the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has, for the first time since the Second World War, exceeded 50 million.[76] As the Recommendation is not legally binding, it depends for its implementation on the voluntary cooperation of Member States.

10.2  At a meeting of the European Council in June 2015, EU leaders agreed that all Member States should take part in resettlement, "through multilateral and national schemes", with their contribution reflecting their "specific situations".[77] In a statement to the House shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would "enhance our plans to resettle the most vulnerable refugees from outside the EU, most notably from Syrian refugee camps".[78] In July, all 28 EU Member States (plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) collectively agreed to resettle a total of 22,504 individuals in need of international protection — the commitment given by the UK is to resettle 2,200.[79] The Prime Minister confirmed in September that the UK would offer resettlement for "up to" 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps bordering Syria "over the rest of this Parliament".[80]

10.3  The Commission has made clear that its review of the so-called "Dublin rules" (determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application), expected in early 2016, will "draw on the experience from the relocation and resettlement mechanisms" put forward during 2015 and "determine whether a revision of the legal parameters of Dublin will be needed to achieve a fairer distribution of asylum seekers in Europe".[81]

10.4  We considered the Recommendation at our first meeting on 21 July 2015. We asked the Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire) to provide further information which we summarise later in this chapter under the heading "Background and previous scrutiny".

10.5  A delay of nearly five months in responding to the Report we issued in July is unacceptable. The Minister offers no explanation, other than to describe the situation as "very fluid".

10.6  We note the Government's view that "resettlement is best decided at national level" and that the UK will not therefore "be signing up to an EU scheme". We consider that the relationship between action at national and at EU level is opaque. We ask the Minister to clarify whether the UK will be accepting EU funding to implement its national resettlement programme and what proportion of the costs of its programme will be funded by the EU.

10.7  A report issued by the Luxembourg Presidency on 16 December indicates that only 600 refugees have been resettled to Member States so far, following the Council agreement in July to resettle 22,504 individuals over two years.[82] We ask the Minister whether this number takes account of Syrian refugees resettled to the UK since September. We also ask him to explain whether the refugees to be resettled by the UK under its Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme will count towards the 22,504 and whether the UK is on track to resettle its voluntarily agreed quota of 2,200 within the agreed two-year timeframe. We reiterate our concern that progress at this rate and on this scale falls far short of current needs for international protection and is very unlikely to deter perilous sea crossings to the EU.

10.8  We note the Minister's view that a failure by Member States to implement the voluntary resettlement scheme in full is unlikely "directly [to] increase the probability of a disadvantageous wider-ranging review of the Dublin rules". We take a less sanguine view, given that there is little evidence of diminishing pressure at the EU's external borders and a growing perception that the Dublin system is no longer fit for purpose. We ask the Minister to provide us with regular updates on the progress being made across the EU to meet the resettlement targets agreed in July 2015. We also ask the Minister whether plans for a more ambitious EU-wide resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees have been abandoned or delayed, given that no reference was made to them in the Conclusions issued by the European Council in December.

10.9  Pending the Minister's reply, the Recommendation remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee.

Full details of the documents: Commission Recommendation on a European resettlement scheme: (36923), 9376/15 + ADD 1, C(15) 3560.

Background and previous scrutiny

10.10  Our Second Report, agreed on 21 July 2015, summarises the content of the Commission Recommendation and the Government's position. The Government's principal concern has been to avoid being bound by any mandatory EU quotas. Whilst it has supported voluntary resettlement, it has opposed (and chosen not to opt into) EU measures on relocation, regardless of whether they are voluntary or mandatory. The distinction between resettlement and relocation does not depend on the status of the individuals concerned — to qualify, all must demonstrate a clear need for international protection — but on where they are at the time they claim international protection. Relocation applies to individuals already in the EU who have applied for asylum in a frontline Member State (Greece or Italy) and who are presumed, on the basis of their nationality, to be very likely to qualify for international protection. Resettlement applies to those outside the EU who are admitted from their country of origin or from camps neighbouring conflict areas.

10.11  When we considered the Recommendation last July, we noted that the European Council had endorsed the principle of resettlement, as well as the numerical target of resettling 20,000 displaced persons within the EU, but that it was as yet unclear whether this would be achieved by means of a comprehensive EU resettlement scheme, an accumulation of national offers of resettlement, or a combination of both. We expressed surprise that the Recommendation did not cite a Title V (justice and home affairs) legal base on the grounds that this obscured the source of the EU's competence to act. Whilst recognising that the Commission Recommendation could not bind the UK (or any other Member State) and so had no immediate legal implications, we suggested that the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum had not adequately addressed the policy and financial implications. In particular, whilst expressing a preference for taking decisions at a national level, and rejecting any idea of a binding "EU quota", the Minister did not clearly rule in or out UK participation in the scheme proposed by the Commission. Nor did he address the financial incentives which participation in an EU scheme would offer. We asked him to provide an assessment of the potential benefits and disadvantages of action at EU or national level, and a clearer indication of the factors which would determine whether or not the UK would participate in a voluntary EU resettlement scheme.

10.12  We noted that Conclusions agreed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in October 2014 urged Member States to offer "a credible number of resettlement places, on a voluntary basis" and to make "a fair and balanced contribution". The European Council similarly called on Member States in April 2015 to strengthen "internal solidarity and responsibility" by piloting an EU resettlement scheme and, in June, indicated that all Member States should participate in the resettlement of 20,000 displaced persons. Whilst the Prime Minister has made clear that the UK remains committed to these objectives, we asked the Minister whether he considered that national efforts alone could provide the scale necessary to meet current needs for international protection, given the marked reluctance in some Member States to support resettlement.[83]

10.13  We also asked the Minister to:

·  indicate how many refugees the UK proposed to resettle over the two-year period envisaged in the Commission Recommendation and whether it would do so on a purely national basis or as part of a wider and coordinated EU resettlement effort; and

·  comment on the distribution key proposed by the Commission, and the prospects for achieving a resettlement figure of 20,000 across the EU as a whole by the end of 2016.

10.14  Finally, we requested the Minister's assessment of the risk that a failure to implement in full the voluntary resettlement scheme proposed by the Commission would increase the probability of a wide-ranging review of the existing Dublin rules in 2016 which could prove to be far less advantageous for the UK.

The Minister's letter of 14 December 2015

10.15  The Minister apologises for the delay in providing the information requested in our Second Report, agreed on 21 July 2015. He Continues:

"Since you wrote, there has been significant work on the issue of resettlement. The Prime Minister announced on 7 September 2015 that the Government would expand the existing Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Scheme, with the intention to resettle 20,000 Syrians in need of protection during this Parliament. We continue to work closely with UNHCR to identify more vulnerable Syrians that they deem in need of resettlement and whose particular needs can only be met in countries like the UK.

"Since July, we have also seen the appointment of a new Minister for Syrian Refugees, Richard Harrington. He will be responsible for coordinating and delivering work across Government to resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees in the UK, along with coordinating the provision of Government support to Syrian refugees in the region. A dedicated team has also been established to coordinate the Government's resettlement commitment. Hosted by the Home Office, the team brings together key representatives from the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], DFID [Department for International Development] and LGA [Local Government Association] to deliver an efficient expanded resettlement scheme, and ensure that those who come to the UK receive a warm welcome."

10.16  The Minister agrees that the omission of a Title V legal base "obscures the source of the EU's competence to act", but adds:

"However, the Commission are entitled to bring non-binding and non-legal proposals forward. As we have always said, resettlement is best decided at a national level and we will not be signing up to an EU scheme."

10.17  The Minister considers that "the approach around the principle of resettlement remains unclear", but notes that:

"Member States continue to extend their resettlement schemes and Member States who have not yet undertaken large scale resettlement programmes are seeking to learn from best practice established by Member States with experience of running resettlement schemes. We expect the Commission to propose a significant EU-wide expansion of resettlement for Syrian refugees at the December European Council."[84]

10.18  Responding to our concern that national efforts alone were unlikely to provide the scale necessary to meet current needs for international protection, the Minister merely reiterates the undertaking given by the European Council last June to resettle 20,000 displaced persons and the Prime Minister's commitment in September to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees directly from the region, "with 1,000 of these to be resettled by Christmas" 2015. He adds:

"The UK is leading the way in terms of the international response. We are encouraging other Member States and national partners to look at their contribution to resettlement and review in line of current circumstances and have offered to share best practice as appropriate."

10.19  The Minister does not indicate how many of the refugees the UK proposes to resettle over the next two years. Instead, he explains that the UK's Gateway resettlement programme aims to resettle around 750 people a year, and will be supplemented by the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (20,000 over the lifetime of the Parliament, 1,000 by Christmas 2015).

10.20  Turning to the distribution key and the efficacy of the formula proposed by the Commission to implement the principle of solidarity and fair burden sharing enshrined in the EU Treaties, the Minister observes:

"Although the distribution key takes into account some important factors such as; Gross Domestic Product (GDP), population size, unemployment rate, number of asylum claims and number of refugees per capita, it can only go so far in reflecting the situation in the real world. For example, the key does not directly take into account the ability or willingness of Member State societies to integrate arriving refugees and it takes no account of efforts Member States may be taking to address the causes of refugee or illegal migration flows, such as humanitarian assistance. The key is therefore only a limited way of assessing the capacity of each Member State to accept asylum seekers even if one accepts this is an appropriate part of the response to the migration challenge faced by the EU, which we do not."

10.21  Finally, the Minister addresses the broader concerns we raised about the Commission's review of the Dublin rules in 2016:

"We believe that any changes to this important measure must not be made hastily. The UK strongly supports the Dublin Regulation. In principle, we believe that an asylum claim made in the EU should be dealt with by the Member State in which the applicant first arrives or which is most responsible for them being allowed entry into the Dublin area. That provides certainty for the applicant and protects other Member States' asylum systems from abuse. The Dublin Regulation is a vital tool in our ability to manage asylum claims within Europe, including repeated claims. We will cooperate fully with any review of the Dublin rules and we will be robust in arguing that vital tools such as this must not be torn up but that the Regulation should be simplified and made more efficient. In practice, we do not assess that the failure to implement the voluntary resettlement scheme in full will directly increase the probability of a disadvantageous wider ranging review of the Dublin rules."

Previous Committee Reports

Second Report HC 342-ii (2015-16), chapter 6 (21 July 2015).

75   See recitals (1) and (2) of the Commission Recommendation, as well as the Statement of the European Council and the Resolution agreed by the European Parliament on 29 April 2015. Back

76   See recitals (3) and (4) of the Commission Recommendation. Back

77   See European Council Conclusions 25/26 June 2015. Back

78   HC Deb col.1176, 29 June 2015. Back

79   See the Conclusions on resettlement agreed by the representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council on 20 July 2015. Back

80   Hansard, 7 September 2015. Back

81   See pp.13-14 of the Commission Communication, A European Agenda on MigrationBack

82   See Presidency report - Managing migration flows (16 December 2015). Back

83   Information provided by the Commission in its Questions and Answers on the European Agenda on Migration indicates that only 15 Member States have resettlement schemes, with a further three offering resettlement on an ad hoc basis. It describes current EU resettlement efforts as "a sum of all national actions". Back

84   In fact, the Conclusions agreed by the European Council on 17 December simply urge Member States to "continue implementing the agreed resettlement scheme". Back

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Prepared 15 January 2016