Sunday, 11 March 2012

What role for EASO with intra-EU relocation mechanisms?

An article in today's Malta Independent on Sunday indicated that EASO will play a key role in evaluating the pilot project seeing beneficiaries of international protection relocated from Malta to other EU MS.

The EUREMA project was set up in response to Malta's insistence that it was not able to single-handedly deal with the influx of asylum-seekers reaching its shores.  It was a voluntary initiative, whereby EU MS could offer relocation spaces to the Malta authorities...clearly limited to refugees and/or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.  The initiative is now in its second stage, with limited support and enthusiasm being shown by MS.

Malta's Minister for Home and Parliamentary Affairs sees off a refugee family, departing within the EUREMA project (photo from The Times of Malta)

Intra-EU relocation of protection beneficiaries has been on the EU's asylum agenda for quite some time now, regularly raised and pushed by the southern EU MS in view of what they describe as disproportionately large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers.  The principle is in fact based on the central role of solidarity in the EU context, and efforts to introduce a compulsory relocation mechanism are generally presented within the EU's broader obligation to ensure an approach to asylum that is based on solidarity and shared responsibility.  But of course nothing is ever so straightforward.

Based as we are here in Malta, we've had the opportunity to closely and directly experience refugee resettlement and relocation out of the island.  Whilst we do certainly support the idea of an EU approach to asylum that is truly based on solidarity and responsibility-sharing ('burden-sharing' is such an odious term!), we'd like to flag a number of issues...not for the sake of any comprehensive analysis, but more for that of triggering some questions:

  • the EU's solidarity should not be limited to MS relations with eachother, but with refugees themselves.  UNHCR figures on resettlement from out of the EU are shockingly low, the EU simply does not want to resettle those refugees who are living truly desperate situations across the globe;

  • the relocation of refugees from one MS to another should be directly associated with the creation of further protection space for those refugees remaining in the sending MS.  In practice, this means ensuring appropriate reception conditions, strengthening asylum procedures, increasing integration opportunities, and an array of measures to in line with the 1951 Convention, CEAS and other relevant instruments;

  • what is the impact of relocation on the willingness of refugees to integrate in the first EU MS?  In Malta we've seen how refugees generally limit their integration efforts due to the idea or hope that one day they will be called to attend a resettlement or relocation interview.  If we really believe that integration is a two-way process requiring full refugee commitment, then we cannot ignore the demotivating impact of resettlement and relocation activities;

  • whose interests should relocation serve?  Those of the sending EU MS?  Of the receiving EU MS?  Of the departing refugees?  Of the remaining refugees?  Surely we can pool our expertise to devise systems that seek to balance the interests of all individuals/entities involved, so as to guarantee procedures that are both humane and sustainable?

  • let's not forget that relocation is not the only method for refugees to move from one EU MS to another.  Dublin II envisages asylum-seekers moving to an EU MS on a number of criteria, including the presence of family members in this other EU MS.  This is particularly important in cases of split families, unaccompanied minors and separated children.  How often are these procedures actually utilised by EU MS?  

For more on EUREMA, you can see this Commission study and a couple of Maltese newspaper articles here and here.

In the Malta Independent article, references are made to the JHA Council meeting held in Brussels on 8 March.  More information on the meeting can be found in this Council press release and also this background document.

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