Documents considered by the Committee on Wednesday 16 March 2016 Contents

5Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee

Document details

Commission Communication on the State of Play in implementing the priority actions under the European Agenda on Migration

Legal base


Home Office

Document Number

(37523), 6056/16 + ADDs 1–9, COM(16) 85

5.1In its latest Communication, the Commission calls for “a radical strengthening of the EU migration system”, noting:

“There should be no illusions that the refugee crisis will end before its root causes — instability, war and terror in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, notably continued war and atrocities in Syria — are addressed in a definite manner. The only responsible course of action is to face this reality and to explain it openly and honestly to citizens; and to step up efforts to better and more effectively manage the consequences of this situation in the European Union by means of a better coordinated European approach and in line with the commonly agreed EU rules and values.”16

5.2The Commission describes the measures already agreed to manage the crisis, reviews the progress made in implementing them, and identifies a series of “priority actions” to be taken in the coming weeks and months to restore control. The objective is to:

“[…] move beyond dealing with the consequences of unmanaged and irregular flows of persons, to real preparedness to manage such flows and towards managed and legal means of entry for those in need of protection, while at the same time quickly and effectively identifying and returning those who have no right to be in the European Union.”17

5.3The Commission suggests that “important building blocks” for a sustainable system of migration management are in place, but there is insufficient political commitment by Member States to ensure swift and effective implementation on the ground. It calls on EU leaders to “do whatever is necessary to restore order into the migration system” and to implement collectively agreed decisions so that there is a fair sharing of responsibility amongst Member States. The Commission concludes:

“The European Union has a legal and a moral obligation as well as a historic responsibility to offer protection to those in need. The refugee crisis is one that, collectively, Europe can — and must — manage. This requires a concerted effort from all EU countries, institutions and agencies on multiple fronts to implement what has been agreed.”18

5.4The Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) notes that the Communication was prepared ahead of the February European Council to inform discussions amongst EU leaders on the migration and refugee crisis and to provide an insight into the Commission’s priorities over the coming months. Whilst agreeing with the Commission’s analysis that “more needs to be done to better manage and coordinate a collective European approach”, the Minister reiterates the Government’s opposition to relocation — the principal mechanism put forward by the Commission to share responsibility for the influx of individuals in need of international protection — as well as the Government’s support for “the important principle” that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country.

5.5Whilst this update is welcome, we remind the Minister that we await a response to the questions we raised last November (and again in December) on a previous Commission Communication on the EU’s response to the refugee crisis.19

5.6The Minister tells us that events are moving quickly. Since the Commission published its Communication in February, EU leaders have agreed a Statement following their meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister on 7 March calling for “bold moves” to end the migration crisis in Europe.20 Discussions are continuing on the basis of a set of “principles” which have sparked widespread concern at the legality of the action proposed to return all new irregular migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Turkey. We ask the Minister to report back to us on any deal that is agreed by the European Council at its meeting later this week, including his reasoned assessment of its compliance with international and EU asylum laws.

5.7The Minister recognises that the resourcing of “hotspots” being established in Greece and Italy falls short of needs. We have previously asked the Minister to explain how much additional resource the Government intends to make available, in what timescale, and the proportion that will be dedicated to identifying and registering children at risk. We again await a response.

5.8We note that the Annex to the Communication concerning ongoing actions to protect children along the migration route (ADD 6) contains very little information on the proposed follow-up to the EU Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors which expired at the end of 2014 and has not yet been replaced. The apparent lack of urgency is difficult to reconcile with reports that an increasing number of unaccompanied minors are disappearing from reception centres, prompting fears that many are falling prey to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation and abuse. In January, Europol estimated that more than 10,000 migrant children may have disappeared after arriving in the EU over the last two years.21 Given the scale of the problem, we ask the Minister whether the Government considers that there is a need for a further EU Action Plan and what immediate steps are being taken at national and at EU level to identify children at risk and to reverse the growing phenomenon of missing unaccompanied migrant children.

5.9We invite the Minister to explain whether UK asylum laws include the safe third country concept and to comment on the Commission’s suggestion that a sufficient connection may be established if an asylum seeker has transited through a safe third country or that country is “geographically close” to the asylum seeker’s country of origin. We would also welcome the Minister’s view on whether Turkey constitutes a safe third country.

5.10Finally, we ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s position on developing “legal pathways” to protection based on a collective EU approach to resettlement and humanitarian admission.

5.11Given the pace of developments, we ask the Minister to provide a prompt and comprehensive response to our questions, as well as to the many questions which remain outstanding from our earlier Reports. Meanwhile, the Communication remains under scrutiny. We draw it to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Commission Communication on the State of Play of implementation of the priority actions under the European Agenda on Migration: (37523), 6056/16 + ADDs 1–9, COM(16) 85.


5.12This latest Communication takes stock of what has already been agreed since the Commission published its European Agenda on Migration in May 2015, how much has been implemented, and what remains to be done to manage the unprecedented flow of individuals entering the EU during 2015 and the early months of 2016. It was discussed by EU leaders at a meeting of the European Council on 7 March. EU leaders also met with the Turkish Prime Minister and agreed a Statement noting that “bold moves were needed to close down people smuggling routes, to break the business model of the smugglers, to protect our external borders and to end the migration crisis in Europe”. EU and Turkish leaders agreed to continue work on a set of “principles” (set out in the Statement) and to review progress at the next meeting of the European Council on 17/18 March.22

5.13Our earlier Reports listed at the end of this chapter provide an overview of the principal policy documents produced by the Commission since last May and the Government’s position.

The Commission Communication

5.14The Commission describes the operational measures taken so far at EU level to manage the increased flows of refugees and migrants, many of them covered in detail in our earlier Reports. They include:

5.15Externally, the EU has supported diplomatic efforts to resolve the crises in Syria and Libya and to address the root causes of migration flows from the Middle East and Africa. As well as providing more than €400 million23 (£314 million) of humanitarian aid to Syria and neighbouring host countries in 2015, the EU Regional Trust Fund for Syria has attracted contributions of €654 million (£513.9 million) (the bulk — €594 million (£466.8 million) — from the EU budget) to support Syrian refugees and over-stretched host communities in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. At the recent London conference, the EU indicated that its contribution towards supporting Syria and the neighbouring region would reach €1,115 billion (£876 million) in 2016— the Commission expects the EU contribution to remain at the same level in 2017. The Commission has also proposed developing “compacts” for Jordan and Lebanon which would include trade preferences. As part of the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan, the EU has created a Facility for Refugees in Turkey with funding of €3 billion (£2.36 billion) to cover 2016 and 2017.24

5.16The Valletta Summit in November 2015 established a forum for leaders of EU and African countries to strengthen cooperation on migration. The EU has set up an Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (totalling nearly €1.9 billion (£1.49 billion), of which €1.8 billion (£1.41 billion) is from the EU budget) to help promote stability and tackle the root causes of irregular migration.

5.17The bulk of the Communication is dedicated to identifying the “priority actions” to be taken forward in the coming weeks and months to restore stability, implement relocation, strengthen borders, support the basic needs of refugees and migrants, improve returns and readmission, implement the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan and support refugees outside the EU.

Restoring stability

5.18The Commission notes that there has been a “breakdown” in the application of EU rules on border management and asylum at points of first entry to the EU which has led to large secondary movements and placed “disproportionate and unsustainable pressure” on the main destination countries. The Commission underscores the need to restore stability in the frontline Member States by prioritising the following actions:

Implementing relocation

5.19The Commission describes relocation as “an essential tool to lessen the strain on frontline Member States” and to restore order to the management of migration. It depends, in the first instance, on effective registration and screening by Greece and Italy and better controls at the Greek border with the former Yugoslav Republic (fYR) of Macedonia to prevent secondary movements. However the most important factor, so far absent, is “the political will of Member States to make relocation work”. The Commission urges Member States to make more relocation places available and to accelerate the pace of relocation, adding:

“As border controls along the Western Balkans route tighten, the pressures that these decisions were intended to alleviate are likely to increase, making the need for solidarity even more compelling.”25

Strong borders

5.20The Commission reiterates the principle “no registration, no rights”, meaning that the right of access to national asylum procedures should be accompanied by due respect for the requirements of EU asylum law, including lodging an application in the Member State of first entry. The Commission adds:

“It should be clear that a wish to transit through the Member State in order to apply for asylum in another Member State is not an acceptable reason for gaining entry.”26

5.21The Commission highlights “regular instances of decisions being taken unilaterally in one country, which have a domino effect on the border of each of the countries upstream”, resulting in the shifting of responsibility and engendering tension between neighbouring countries, particularly on the Western Balkans route. It calls for “the restoration of order in the system” through the full application of EU and international law, limiting entry to individuals who are applying for asylum in the Member State designated by the Dublin rules (these identify a single Member State responsible for processing an asylum application).27 The Commission identifies the following priority actions:

5.22The Commission notes that an unannounced Schengen evaluation visit carried out at Greece’s sea and land borders with Turkey last November revealed serious deficiencies in the management of Greece’s external borders. On 12 February, the Council adopted a Recommendation setting out 50 “remedial actions” to be taken by the Greek authorities by 12 May to ensure that controls at Greece’s external borders comply fully with Schengen requirements.29 This is the first step towards securing agreement to trigger Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code which permits the reintroduction of controls at all or specific parts of internal Schengen borders for up to two years in exceptional circumstances where the overall functioning of the Schengen free movement area is at risk.

Supporting the basic needs of refugees and migrants

5.23The Commission underscores “the humanitarian imperative” guiding the EU’s response to the migration and refugee crisis. It highlights two “key aspects” of the EU’s approach:

5.24The Commission notes the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children and “the need to employ a comprehensive approach for the protection of children throughout the migration chain”. It calls for:

Making return and readmission work

5.25The Commission observes that an effective system for the return of illegal migrants operates as “a powerful deterrent” to irregular migration and is crucial in securing the resources needed for those with clear protection needs. It calls for:

5.26The safe third country concept allows Member States to decline to consider an application for international protection if the individual concerned has a sufficient connection with a safe third country and could reasonably be expected to seek protection there. The EU Asylum Procedures Directive allows (but does not require) Member States to establish rules for applying the safe third country concept in their domestic laws.32 The Commission suggests that a sufficient connection may be established if an asylum seeker has transited through a safe third country or that country is “geographically close” to the asylum seeker’s country of origin. The Commission also makes clear that the safe third country concept is not limited to third countries which have ratified the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention without any geographical reservation restricting its application to events occurring in Europe. In practice, this means that Turkey (one of the few countries that has ratified the Geneva Convention subject to a geographical reservation) can, according to the Commission, be considered a safe third country.33

Delivering the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan

5.27The Commission notes that the flow of irregular arrivals from Turkey remains “exceptionally high” and describes the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan (activated last November) as “key to stemming the influx of irregular migrants”.34 It describes the “important steps” taken by Turkey, such as a limited opening of the labour market to Syrians who have temporary protection status, and calls on Member States to launch the first projects under the EU’s €3 billion (£2.36 billion) Facility for Refugees in Turkey.35 The Commission also underlines the need for progress on return and readmission to Turkey through effective implementation of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement and the bilateral Greece-Turkey Readmission Agreement.36

Supporting refugees outside the EU

5.28The Commission reiterates the commitments made by the EU to maintain a high level of humanitarian assistance to meet the most urgent needs of displaced people within Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq). It also highlights support given to refugees and host countries in other parts of the world, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, through the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. As well as urging Member States to meet the 0.7% target for overseas development assistance and to match the funding provided by the EU for the Syrian and African Trust Funds, the Commission also calls for the accelerated implementation of resettlement and humanitarian admission schemes so that there are safe and legal pathways to secure protection within the EU. In addition, the Commission says it will put forward an initiative in April to ensure “a collective approach to resettlement and cement it as a core tool” for EU assistance to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

5.29In the final section of the Communication, the Commission describes the enforcement action it has taken since September 2015 to ensure the correct implementation of EU laws on asylum and on returns. It suggests that incomplete and inconsistent implementation has undermined the EU’s migration management system and that it will work with Member States to achieve full compliance.

5.30A series of Addenda to the Communication provide more detailed information and statistical data on:

The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 9 March 2016

5.31The Minister welcomes the Commission’s “helpful and informative” Communication. He agrees with the Commission’s overall assessment that “more needs to be done to better manage and coordinate a collective European approach to the migration crisis, and that securing the EU’s external border is a key part of addressing this crisis given the impact of secondary movements on internal borders across the EU”. He continues:

“The February European Council discussed the need to press ahead with commitments to strengthen the EU’s external borders, including hotspots, and to ensure that those needing international protection received it and those that did not were returned promptly. That included agreement that asylum seekers do not have the right to choose where they will seek asylum. The Council called for: concerted action on the Western Balkans route to end the ‘wave through’ approach; rapid implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard proposal; and full and speedy implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan and the actions agreed by the Valletta Summit.”37

5.32The Minister notes that “events have since moved quickly” and many elements of the Communication have been (or will soon be) superseded. He provides an overview of the main developments between 10 February (when the Communication was published) and 4 March.

Support to Greece, including NATO and hotspots

5.33The Minister comments:

“On 11 February, Defence Ministers agreed a joint proposal from Turkey, Greece and Germany that NATO should assist with the refugee and migrant crisis by disrupting criminal gangs working between Greece and Turkey. The Government welcomes this initiative, given its role will be to provide reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance to assist existing EU work to combat human smuggling and trafficking in the region, working with Greek and Turkish border guards. We continue to watch developments in the Aegean Sea closely. We believe that returns of third country migrants to Turkey will have a real impact on the continuing flows on the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route.

“We also agree with the Commission that the urgent completion of the set-up of hotspots in Greece and Italy is a priority. The UK has been supportive of the hotspots approach since it was first proposed in the European Agenda on Migration document (8961/15, published on 13 May 2015). It has therefore been a core focus of our calls for a comprehensive approach to tackling the migration crisis. However, progress in Italy and Greece has been slow. It was only just before the February European Council that Italy claimed that it has four operational hotspots with another two coming online by the end of the year, while Greece announced that it had implemented four of its five planned hotspots and they would begin operation immediately. We are awaiting independent confirmation of live operations (including on resources) and continue to press for full processing and fingerprinting of migrants and clear decision making related to returns. We will update you on developments in Italy and Greece in due course.”38

The EU’s asylum and returns system

5.34The Minister reiterates in familiar terms the Government’s opposition to the EU’s relocation policy:

“Relocation is the wrong response to the migratory pressures the EU faces. It undermines the important principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and does not address the causes of illegal migration.”39

5.35He continues:

“It is vital to maintain the principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country. Abandoning this principle would not address the causes of illegal migration and would simply move the problem around Europe. A move away from this principle may also act as a pull factor, encouraging more refugees and economic migrants to make dangerous journeys to the EU. It could also encourage some Member States to avoid their responsibilities in developing and operating effective border and asylum systems. Protracted negotiations on relocation have also absorbed time and effort that, in the Government’s view, would have been better spent on more pressing issues such as addressing the causes of migration, combating the criminality that puts lives at risk and tackling abuse of the EU asylum system.

“We welcome the recent public statements from the Commission saying that migrants cannot choose which country to claim asylum in. We also welcome its new focus on a review of the EU’s asylum and returns systems, as well as associated documentation and visa regimes, in order to create stronger processing and checking systems. It is vital that control is regained over these systems and they are fully used; on that basis we await the Commission’s proposals on a recast Dublin mechanism.

“The Government also shares the Commission’s view that people not in genuine need of international protection must be identified and returned quickly and that an effective system of returns cannot be achieved without boosting cooperation with the main countries of origin and transit. The EU and Member States should use adequate leverage to secure the necessary cooperation, while taking care not to undermine broader cooperation with key third countries. The Government is also exploring new approaches to obtaining travel documentation — one of the biggest challenges for returns.”40

Action on Schengen and the Western Balkans route

5.36The Minister comments on the re-introduction of temporary controls at the internal borders of some Schengen countries, particularly those forming part of the Western Balkans migration route. He agrees that the ‘wave through’ approach should be brought to an end and a greater emphasis placed on better coordination of border management amongst all countries along this route.

European Border and Coast Guard

5.37The Minister sets out the Government’s policy priorities on the recent proposal to upgrade Frontex and establish a European Border and Coast Guard:

“Our policy priorities are to ensure a continuation of our current relationship with Frontex whereby we participate in operations and other activities on an ad hoc basis by mutual consent, to maintain our seat (as a non-voting observer) at the Management Board, and to protect and ensure no adverse impact on our existing bilateral arrangements such as those in operation at the juxtaposed controls.”41

5.38He notes that negotiations are progressing rapidly, adding:

“The European Border and Coast Guard is even more relevant given recent events in Greece and along the Western Balkans route. Both the Dutch Presidency and the Commission are seeking agreement of the European Border and Coast Guard at the latest by June, if not earlier, and hope to make it operational during the summer. We will be updating you on these negotiations as and when significant developments occur.”42

EU external and upstream engagement

5.39The Minister supports the emphasis placed on “upstream engagement with transit and source countries” and highlights the UK’s role “at the forefront of this work”. He continues:

“The UK supports the Turkey-EU Action Plan, which was signed on 29 November, and we have been clear on the need to work closely with Turkey to address the consequences of the Syria conflict, including the refugee crisis. We took an active part in the next EU-Turkey Summit on 7 March.”43

5.40The Government also supports upstream work with African countries:

“The UK is the current chair of the Khartoum Process which focuses its work in the Horn of Africa, and this gives us a valuable insight into the overall EU approach to Africa. Those actions include more ambitious efforts to break the link between crossing the Mediterranean and remaining in the EU, including work to enhance protection in the region and to improve cooperation on returns and readmission, and further efforts to break the business model of the people smugglers and traffickers.”44

Humanitarian aid

5.41The Minister comments:

“Stepping up EU support to Syrian refugees, including opening up legal pathways through resettlement and endorsement of the voluntary humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey, was recommended by the Commission on 15 December 2015. These issues will form part of the discussions at the 7 March EU-Turkey Summit. But there is a need to address humanitarian issues more broadly. We support increasing the EU’s capacity to provide humanitarian assistance to third countries as a key part of EU external action. We also want to ensure that EU humanitarian aid complements the extensive bilateral work of Member States, not least the UK, around the globe.”45

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document, but the following Reports on earlier Commission Communications are relevant: Commission Communication, A European Agenda on Migration, Second Report HC 342–ii (2015–16), chapter 1 (21 July 2015) and Seventh Report HC 342–vii (2015–16), chapter 4 (28 October 2015); Commission Communication, Managing the refugee crisis: immediate operational, budgetary and legal measures under the European Agenda on Migration, Fifth Report HC 342– (2015–16), chapter 32 (14 October 2015); Commission Communication, Managing the refugee crisis — State of play of the implementation of priority actions under the European Agenda on Migration, Ninth Report HC 342–ix (2015–16), chapter 8 (18 November 2015) and Fifteenth Report HC 342–xiv (2015–16), chapter 8 (16 December 2015); Commission Communications, Progress reports on the implementation of hotspots in Greece and Italy, Twenty-second Report HC 342–xxi (2015–16), chapter 5 (3 February 2016).

16 See p.2 of the Communication.

17 See p.2 of the Communication.

18 See pp.3 and 22 of the Communication.

19 See the Reports listed at the end of this chapter.

20 See the Statement issued by Heads of State or Government on 7 March 2016.

21 Reported by the BBC and numerous other news sources in January 2016.

22 See the Statement issued by EU leaders following their meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Davutoglu, on 7 March 2016.

23 €1 = 0.7858

24 The EU budget will provide €1 billion; the remaining €2 billion will be provided by Member States on the basis of national contributions calculated according to their Gross National Income (€327 million (around £250 million) for the UK share). See the Written Ministerial Statement made by the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) on 7 March 2016.

25 See pp.11–12 of the Communication.

26 See p.12 of the Communication.

27 See pp.12–13 of the Communication.

28 The Council agreed a general approach on the proposed changes to the Schengen Borders Code on 25 February 2016.

29 See the Recommendation which takes the form of a Council Implementing Decision.

30 See p.15 of the Communication,

31 See Chapter 10 of this Report for details of the use of emergency aid in relation to the migrant crisis and Europol.

32 See Articles 33 and 38 of the EU Asylum Procedures Directive.

33 At p.18 of the Communication, footnote 38, the Commission notes that the Greek Interior Minister, Mr Kouroumplis, stated in February that Greece considers Turkey to be a “third country of safe passage”.

34 See p.18 of the Communication and see the Commission’s fact sheet on the EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan.

35 The first projects were launched on 4 March, focusing on access to education for Syrian children in Turkey and humanitarian aid through the World Food Programme.

36 The provisions in the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement on the readmission of third country nationals transiting through Turkey to the EU will apply from 1 June 2016.

37 See paras 36–7 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

38 See paras 39–40 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

39 See para 41 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

40 See paras 43–5 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

41 See para 48 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

42 See para 49 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

43 See para 51 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

44 See para 52 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

45 See para 53 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 22 March 2016