88.Under the Dublin regulations, the Member State through which an asylum seeker first enters the EU is generally responsible for examining the asylum application. Exemptions exist if a close connection can be established based on family ties or a previously issued residence permit or visa in another Member State. States cannot say they are not responsible if it can be evidenced that someone entered their country first. In return, any State can request the acceptance of the migrant by the country of first arrival. Proving the country of first arrival is not straightforward, however, and relies heavily on an individual’s identity and fingerprinting data being entered onto EURODAC—the EU asylum fingerprint database.
89.In practice, under the current arrangements, responsibility for identifying, registering and processing claims for asylum, and integrating those who have a valid claim for international protection, rests with a small number of exposed frontline Member States. We were told by Italian and Hungarian representatives that the system does not work effectively with the current number of people arriving at the external border. Greece does not have the capacity to examine the asylum applications of 600,000 people. Asylum-seekers who arrive in Italy or Greece must therefore either remain there for protracted periods or resort to trying to continue their journey illegally, with the risk of being sent back to Italy or Greece if they are picked up elsewhere.
90.There were 435,000 asylum applications in the EU in 2013, and transfers under Dublin were requested in 16,014 cases, or 3.7% of all those claiming asylum. Requesting a transfer does not mean it actually happens. Data for the period 2009 to 2013 show that of an average of 55,000 annual applications issued, only 73% transfers were accepted, and only about 26% were physically transferred—approximately 14,000 persons per year. The proportion of transfers of actual persons on the basis of the Dublin system compared to the number of asylum seeker applications for international protection in the EU was approximately 4%. In 2014, the UK requested 1,831 transfers under Dublin and transferred 252 people.
91.There have been calls for the Dublin system to be reviewed. Following Germany’s suspension of the arrangements in August 2015, a spokesperson for the European Commission said that this was a recognition that the Member States at the external border cannot be left to manage the numbers trying to enter Europe on their own. The Commission subsequently said that the operation of the Dublin rules was perceived as being “fundamentally unfair”. In May the Commission published proposals for reform of the Dublin rules which, while retaining the principle of claiming asylum in the first country, would include a new ‘fairness mechanism’ to redistribute claims where a Member State would otherwise be left facing disproportionate pressure on its asylum system. Mr Khalid Chaouki, a Member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told us that he wanted a review of Dublin, to consider whether an EU asylum permit should be developed that would facilitate freedom of movement for refugees, similar to the arrangements for other immigrants. Mr Gergely Gulyás, Deputy Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, told us that he would prefer to maintain the element of Dublin that requires a refugee to be accepted at the first safe country. He did not think it was appropriate for the refugee to choose a particular country of safety and illegally cross safe borders to do so. He saw the protection of borders as part of national competence and also an obligation within the Schengen Agreement.
92.A major part of registration of migrants is the identification and fingerprinting of new arrivals. Fingerprinting is more reliable than documentation, which can be forged, and commonly forms the basis for future transfer applications under the Dublin Convention. However, there is inconsistency in the registration, fingerprinting and entering of details onto EURODAC of new arrivals entering the EU at unofficial border crossings between different European countries, and both Italy and Greece have been criticised in the past for not fingerprinting new arrivals. There have also been discrepancies between the number of irregular arrivals and the number of individuals whose fingerprints were entered on the EURODAC database. The IRC said the Dublin rules incentivise people to avoid registration and fingerprinting, and to use smugglers to enter the EU clandestinely.
93.Frontex figures show that between July and November 2015 65,050 people arrived by sea in Italy but only 29,176 were fingerprinted and added to EURODAC. The Commission said in December that it wanted Italy to achieve a 100% fingerprinting rate for new arrivals “without delay”. In the period from September 2015 to January 2016, the proportion of migrants arriving in Italy whose fingerprints were included in the EURODAC database rose from 36% to 87%. Over the same period the rate for new arrivals in Greece rose from 8% to 78%.
94.Application of the provisions of the Dublin Convention has a direct impact on UK migration controls because many of the migrants and refugees who arrive illegally in Calais with the aim of making an asylum claim in the UK will have passed through another EU state. The existing Dublin regulations were not designed for a crisis such as the present one, and the European Commission has proposed to improve them with a revised scheme designed to ensure that responsibility for processing asylum claims does not rest disproportionately with frontline states but instead, when required, is shared by EU members. The UK indicated that it would oppose any such changes to the Dublin regulations, even putting aside the question of its exit from the EU. Regardless of whether these changes proceed, proper systems for registering and tracking migrants need to be in place as part of the Dublin arrangements and an effective fingerprinting system is crucial for this. However, it is unfair for EU countries that are distant from the current points of arrival in the EU to criticise the main arrival countries for not implementing fingerprinting requirements effectively, given the vast numbers that they have been left to cope with, with inadequate support.
95.As part of the European Agenda on Migration, the Commission proposed to relieve pressure on the frontline Member States by creating hotspots—reception centres with integrated teams working 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The integrated teams include staff from three agencies: the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex, and Europol. The intention is for new arrivals to be identified, registered and fingerprinted (and their details put on EURODAC); to have their documentation checked against security databases; and then to be channelled into either the national asylum system, the European relocation system, or the return system. The aim is for hotspots to facilitate new arrivals being received in better conditions and processed faster.
96.There was criticism that it was taking too long to establish the hotspots. The initiative began in July 2015; Italy was to have seven and Greece to have five such centres. Six hotspot areas have been designated by the Italian government: Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Porto Empedocle (Sicily), Trapani (Sicily), Augusta and Taranto. The plan in Greece is for a regional headquarters in Piraeus (Port of Athens) with hotspots on the different islands where arrivals are most common. The first Greek hotspot was opened on the island of Lesbos in October 2015. The IRC said it took until February 2016 for four further centres to be established. The European Commission found in February 2016 that only two were operational in Italy and one in Greece.
97.To ensure that hotspots can register all new arrivals requires them to be resourced appropriately. Two of the agencies involved, Frontex and EASO, are reliant on Member States to make the necessary expert staff available. However, this has not been forthcoming. The Greek Ambassador told us last November that Greece had asked for 740 Frontex staff for the hotspots on the Greek Islands but by then had received only 100. He argued that, without these resources, processing takes longer and conditions in the reception centres deteriorate. Médecins Sans Frontières said the hotspot on Lesbos left refugees “stranded in mud and rain, without food, water, shelter or warm clothes”. In February, the European Commission itself raised many concerns, including the need for updated IT systems to ensure that personal data can be checked against security databases, and for more medical staff to enable faster screening.
98.The Home Office told us that the Government supports the hotspot proposals, and the involvement of Frontex, EASO, Europol (and Eurojust), to intervene quickly, and emphasised the benefits of those who do not apply for asylum being “swiftly returned to their country of origin”. The Home Office pointed out that the UK has been “contributing more resource in the last 3 years than any other Member State” to Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus, and has offered a further 10 experts to support EASO in response to its requests. It did not provide data on its support for Frontex staff within the hotspots.
99.In May 2015, the European Commission proposed the transfer of 40,000 people in need of protection from Italy and Greece to other Member States over two years. In September, EU Home Affairs Ministers agreed to relocate a further 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and “other Member States directly affected by the refugee crisis”. Hungary was also under pressure from large numbers, with up to 2,000 a day crossing the border at Rozko, but declined to sign up to the relocation mechanism. The refugees would be relocated to other countries using a “distribution key” based on the size of the population, total GDP, the number of asylum applications received over the previous four years and the unemployment rate. Receiving countries would be paid €6,000 for each person relocated. Not all migrants arriving in Italy or Greece would be eligible for relocation and it would only apply to Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis, which was justified by the high acceptance level (“recognition rate”) of over 75% for applications from these nationalities across the EU.
100.Relocation is intended to work in tandem with the hotspots, so registration on arrival is quickly followed by establishing their entitlement for relocation. After relocation, their application for asylum would be processed in the new country. The effective operation of the hotspots would mean those eligible for protection were moved on as quickly as possible and the difficulty of establishing their asylum claim was shared. The Commission has said that “both the legislation and the structures are in place to allow for the emergency relocation of up to 160,000 people” who are in clear need of international protection. The EU budget has provided €640 million to support relocation.
101.The target number of 160,000 migrants to be relocated is small relative to the more than one million migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015, and the pace of relocation is very slow. As of 15 March 2016, EU countries had pledged to relocate a total of 3,723 refugees from Italy and Greece, but only 937 had been moved. The Commission has described this as “unsatisfactory”. The IRC pointed out that, if relocation continues at the current rate, it will take more than 100 years to achieve the 160,00 target—which itself is less than 20% of the people who arrived in Europe in 2015.
102.Persuading EU states to participate in relocation has been difficult from the start. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have resisted being part of any mandatory scheme, and both Slovakia and Hungary have legally challenged it. The then Home Secretary confirmed to us in December that the UK would use its opt-out and would not take part in any mandatory relocation scheme. Sweden and Austria have requested a suspension from their relocation commitments due to the high numbers of migrants they are already managing.
103.Italy and Greece know that many of the migrants who arrive on their shores have no intention of staying there but these countries are being forced to devote resources to the hotspot arrangements. Moreover, if migrants are registered there on arrival, it effectively makes Italy and Greece susceptible to thousands of returns under the Dublin regulations. Understandably, migrants do not know how relocation is supposed to work so are suspicious about cooperating, particularly if relocation sends them to a country to which they do not want to go. Mr Gulyas said that any agreement to allocate people to a particular country is unmanageable because there is no internal border. He said that “Somebody who is aiming to go to Sweden or Germany will find a way to go there, regardless of whether the quota tells them to be in Bulgaria or in Hungary”. Mr Chaouki told us that refugees know which countries offer better facilities for new arrivals and, unless asylum services are consistent across Europe, asylum seekers will go to the “five-star level of reception countries”.
104.If it can be made to work effectively, the EU’s hotspot initiative will go some way to recognising that individual frontline countries cannot be left to bear the brunt of vast migration flows. For the hotspots to be a success, commitment and practical support is required from all EU members, and from the UK, for staff, equipment and other necessary resources. Greece and Italy cannot be blamed if the hotspots remain under-staffed and under-resourced. We welcome the practical support provided by the UK to date. It should be noted that the UK has opted out of the EU scheme for dealing with the migration crisis and that its unilateral commitments are currently limited mainly to the 20,000 Syrians refugees it has agreed to accept by 2020.
105.The EU Agenda on Migration acknowledged that systems across the EU for the return of those who are not eligible for humanitarian protection was unsatisfactory, and was incentivising irregular migration. It argued that an effective return policy is a strong deterrent because people would be reluctant to pay smugglers large sums if they run a high risk of being returned home quickly, even if they manage to reach the EU. However, in 2014 less than 40% of the irregular migrants ordered to leave the EU actually left. The Commission has now proposed that Frontex coordinate the management of returns, through identification, issue of travel documents, and ongoing work with the countries of transit and origin. It has also said that agencies in each Member State with responsibility for returns need to be resourced appropriately.
106.As an illustration of the scale of the challenge, the Commission found that over 50% of the migrants arriving in the Italian hotspots were not in need of international protection, and urged the Italian authorities to take action to speed up forced returns. Italy returned 14,113 people in 2015 out of over 83,000 asylum applications.
107.The UK Government is clear that “detection at the point of entry into the EU must have consequences. Swift returns from the external border should be a priority for the EU and its Member States”. It believes that the hotspots will help identify “who is and who is not in need of international protection”. The UK has also asked for returns procedures to be speeded up, and for returns decisions to be made for those who enter Greece irregularly, do not apply for asylum, or are found not to qualify for asylum. It also argues that action is needed to prevent irregular migrants from absconding while waiting to be returned.
108.Movement of illegal migrants within continental Europe has been facilitated by the removal of passport checks at internal borders, following the Schengen Agreement in 1985. Schengen is part of the framework for free movement of goods, persons, services and capital between Member States. Schengen assumes that those benefitting from free movement are either in possession of an EU Member State passport or have a legal right to be in the EU. It was not designed to operate under circumstances where large numbers of people would move across internal borders without an EU passport or a legal right to be in the EU.
109.Several countries have responded to the increased migratory flows by reintroducing border controls. Schengen rules allow for temporary border checks to be put in place for 10 days if necessary for “public policy or national security” reasons. The controls can be renewed in 20-day periods for a maximum of two months. Such controls “should remain an exception and should only be effected as a measure of last resort, for a strictly limited scope and period of time”. By February 2016, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Norway had all suspended Schengen at some point and reintroduced some form of border checks. There are calls within the EU to revisit how Schengen operates. However, our witnesses from Greece, Italy and Hungary all wanted to retain Schengen.
110.The European Commission has said that an essential aim of the hotspots project is enhanced security at the border. Documents given to migrants and refugees to allow onward travel will now include security features to prevent them being swapped or forged, and to enable them to be checked systematically against verification databases, including the Schengen Information System—a database which enables the relevant border authorities in each country to enter and consult alerts on third-country nationals so they can be refused entry where necessary. (This is separate from the EURODAC database discussed above.) The EU wants Member States to ensure that all migrants are fingerprinted and secondary movements by unregistered migrants are avoided and so has said that “as a last resort” the “proportionate use of coercion” is available to national authorities to ensure fingerprinting. The EU is pushing for 100% coverage of identification and registration of all new arrivals, and for criminals involved in fraudulent use of travel and identity documents to be prosecuted.
111.Two of the terrorists involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks are believed to have passed through Greece, one with an EU passport and one with a Syrian passport. As noted above, after the attacks, France called for Schengen to be suspended so that identity checks could be reintroduced on its internal borders, and a number of other countries reintroduced some form of border checks. Identification checks of non-EU nationals with a Schengen visa have since become more frequent. Europol has said that members of terrorist groups or returning foreign fighters with EU nationality “generally rely on genuine or fraudulent documents” to enter the EU rather than using smuggling networks. The Greek Ambassador to the UK told us, in relation to the Paris attacks, that Greece was not informed by the French authorities that suspects might be travelling under a falsified passport and neither individual triggered an alert on the relevant databases when checked by the Greek authorities.
112.Before the Paris attacks, Member States were required to check the passport of EU nationals on entry and exit at the external border but they did not have to check their identity against security databases. For non-EU nationals both passports checks and identity checks against security databases were required, but only on entry; checks on exit were optional. In December 2015 the European Commission proposed changes to strengthen security. This would mean that the identity of EU travellers would be checked against security databases; however, if such checks were found to have a disproportionate effect on the flow of traffic then they could be made on a targeted basis. Passport and security database checks would be carried out for non-EU travellers on both entry to and exit from the external border and these would be mandatory irrespective of the effect on the flow of traffic.
113.After the Paris attacks, the then Home Secretary stated that in the UK:
Border Force has intensified checks on people, goods and vehicles entering the UK from the near continent and elsewhere. Additionally, in order to help the French authorities secure their own border, Border Force and the police have been undertaking additional and targeted security checks against passengers and vehicles travelling to France via both maritime and rail ports and a number of airports across the country.
114.In the context of the current intense security threats to EU countries, it is clearly in the interest of all countries for there to be effective security checks at EU external borders. Although the measures taken by the UK since the Paris attacks are welcome, no country can expect to be able to protect its borders alone against those who wish to do harm. The UK needs its European neighbours, and the countries on the EU external borders, to take equally rigorous steps. Terrorists do not see national borders as a barrier to their barbarism and people with illegal or lethal intent will continue to try to find ways through any security system. Cooperation and continued vigilance are necessary.
115.The Greek Ambassador to the UK told us that one of the Paris terrorists crossed from Turkey to Greece and was then able to travel on within the EU, and that another had a Syrian passport. The additional checks against security databases which the European Commission has proposed are welcome. These should be enforced, in addition to passport checks, for both EU and non-EU nationals. Equipment should be available at all EU external borders for the fingerprinting of migrants on arrival and then for background-checking to be carried out before they cross the border. Any increased delays at border crossings which this may cause may just have to be accepted, in the face of the continued threat of terrorists managing to evade EU border checks, as two of the Paris attackers appear to have done.
116.We have examined the implications for UK security of terrorist attacks, including those in Paris and Brussels, as part of our separate inquiry into radicalisation and counter-terrorism. We expect to publish our report on this highly important subject shortly.
106 The latest version of the Dublin Regulation——was adopted in June 2013. The countries which participate in the arrangements are the 28 EU States plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
107 Oral evidence taken on ; and on , Qs 216, 246
108 Eurostat, , July 2015
109 Study Group on the reception system, , Rome, October 2015
110 Eurostat, , July 2015
111 Deutsche Welle, , Germany suspends ‘Dublin rules’ for Syrians
112 European Commission, , 10 February 2016
113 Oral evidence taken on , Qs228 and 252–255
114 Oral evidence taken on , Q152
115 International Rescue Committee written evidence ()
116 European Commission, , 10 February 2016
117 European Commission,
118 Oral evidence taken on , Q167
119 Oral evidence taken on , Q229
120 European Commission,
121 IRC written evidence (
122 European Commission, , 10 February 2016
123 Oral evidence taken on , Qq163–164
124 Reliefweb, , More than 1000 people stranded outside in Lesbos – MSF treating hypothermia
125 European Commission, , 15 December 2015
126 Home Office written evidence ()
127 Home Office written evidence ()
128 European Commission Statement following the decision at the Extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council to relocate 120,000 refugees,
129 Deutsche Welle, , Germany suspends ‘Dublin rules’ for Syrians
130 Oral evidence taken on , Q229
131 European Commission, , 10 February 2016
132 European Commission – Press release, , 16 March 2016
133 International Rescue Committee , Urgent action needed on European refugee crisis
134 Oral evidence taken on the work of the Home Secretary on , Q139
135 Politico, , Why the EU’s refugee relocation policy is a flop
136 Oral evidence taken on , Qs226 and 260
137 Study Group on the reception system, , Rome, October 2015
138 European Commission, , May 2015
139 European Commission, , 10 February 2016
140 European Commission, , 15 December 2015
141 Home Office written evidence ()
142 In 1985, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany and France signed the “Schengen Agreement” in the small village of Schengen, Luxemburg. The number of “Schengen states” has increased since to Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland (non-EU member), Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein (non-EU member), Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway (non-EU member), Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland (non-EU member)
143 Oral evidence taken on , QqQ170, 177 186; and on , Q217
144 See European Commission website,
145 European Commission Press release, , Implementing the European Agenda on Migration: Commission reports on progress in Greece, Italy and the Western Balkans
146 Daily Telegraph, , Paris attacks: France to call for effective suspension of Schengen open borders; BBC Online, , Migrant crisis: Sweden border checks come into force; Daily Telegraph, , Sweden calls on Britain to help with migrant crisis as it re-imposes border controls; Daily Telegraph, , Refugee crisis: Europe’s borders unravelling as Austria and Slovakia impose frontier controls; BBC Online, , Schengen: Controversial EU free movement deal explained
147 Europol, , February 2016
148 Oral evidence taken on , Qs152–157
149 Statewatch, The reform of Frontex: Saving Schengen at Refugee’s Expense, date; BBC Online, , Schengen: Controversial EU free movement deal explained
150 HC Deb , Col 379
151 For more information about this inquiry, including all the oral and written evidence received, see the Countering Extremism on the Committee website
28 July 2016