European Commission criticises EU members over migrants

European countries admit less than 10% of 160,000 asylum seekers agreed to take in

European countries have taken in less than 10 per cent of the 160,000 asylum seekers they pledged to admit under a relocation scheme agreed at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.

The slow acceptance rate has left tens of thousands of people living in unsanitary and overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy, prompting the European Commission to admonish EU capitals for failing to deliver on their promises.

Despite February setting a new monthly record, with 1,940 relocations across the EU, the current pace is “well below expectations” and far short of the agreed target of 3,000 a month from Greece and 1,500 a month from Italy, the commission said.

“Most importantly, the current pace will not allow for the relocation of all eligible applicants currently present in Greece and Italy by September 2017 – despite this being perfectly feasible,” it added in a statement.

Irish pledge

Ireland has taken in 12 per cent of the asylum seekers it committed to receiving for relocation, with 320 people having arrived in the State from Greece since the scheme was agreed in late 2015. The figure suggests Ireland will struggle to meet its target of 2,622 from Greece and Italy by September, when the scheme ends.

So far, Malta and Finland are the only two member states on track to meet their obligations for both Italy and Greece. Some countries (Hungary, Austria and Poland) are still refusing to take part in the scheme at all and others are doing so on a very limited basis (Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia). Ireland voluntarily opted into the programme, but the UK refused to participate.

Relocations from Italy have been hampered by a dispute between Italian authorities and their counterparts in receiving countries over pre-departure security screening for eligible asylum seekers. So far not a single person has come to Ireland from Italy under the scheme. A spokesman for the Department of Justice said “intensive efforts” were ongoing to resolve the problem, with contacts between Dublin and Rome at ministerial and official level.

The spokesman said the rate of new arrivals from Greece had picked up in recent months and the Government remained committed to meeting its relocation target by September.

Infringement proceedings

At a press conference in Brussels on Thursday, migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that states could face infringement proceedings, including big fines, if they did not raise their acceptance rates.

He said the obligations on states to take people in would continue beyond the close of the scheme in September, describing it as akin to an “outstanding bill”.

“I want to be clear. There are no excuses for the member states not to deliver,” he said. “It’s possible . . . to relocate all these from Italy and Greece by September. It entirely depends on the political will and perseverance of member states to make it happen.”

The exodus of Syrian refugees and others towards Europe through 2015 – the largest mass movement of people on the continent since the second World War – spurred an EU-wide effort to adopt state-by-state quotas in order to ease pressure on Greece and Italy.

Under a separate resettlement scheme, which is open to people already registered as refugees, mainly in Lebanon and Jordan, Ireland pledged to take in 1,040 individuals by the end of this year. The State is on track to fulfil that pledge ahead of schedule.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is an Assistant Editor of The Irish Times