European Commission proposes migrant quotas for member states

UK, France seek Security Council mandate to target smugglers’ boats in Libyan waters

The UN’s Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland says the “entire international community must accept a fair share of the refugee burden”.  Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

The UN’s Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland says the “entire international community must accept a fair share of the refugee burden”. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

The European Commission is to propose that member states receive a set number of migrants under a new quota system, potentially presenting UK prime minister David Cameron with a major challenge as he seeks to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU.

In a policy proposal to be published tomorrow – a draft of which has been seen by The Irish Times – the EU’s executive arm is proposing a “resettlement” and “relocation” programme. The first would oblige the EU to resettle asylum-seekers residing in camps outside the EU within Europe, with the draft proposal mentioning a target figure of 20,000 by 2020.

The second, more controversial proposal, would seek to relocate refugees who have already arrived in Europe across member states, based on a “distribution key”.

Under current legislation known as the “Dublin regulation”, asylum-seekers are obliged to seek asylum in the country where they first arrive. But countries to the south of the bloc, who have been receiving the vast majority of migrants, have been arguing that responsibility for refugees should be shared more equally throughout the union.

Countries such as Italy, Greece and Malta have been more recently supported in their stance by Germany, which accepts one of the highest proportion of asylum-seekers in the EU. Following last month’s emergency summit on migration, German chancellor Angela Merkel called for a more equal distribution of migrants.

Escalation

“Europe cannot stand by whilst lives are being lost at sea,” the proposal states. It proposes the triggering of the EU’s temporary protection directive dating from 2001 which would grant emergency refugee status to migrants fleeing Syria and Eritrea immediately, with migrants then distributed throughout Europe based on a “distribution mechanism”.

This step would be the precursor of a “lasting solution”, the document says.

“The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states.”

How the distribution key would be calculated is also a key source of debate, with the commission proposing a redistribution key based on criteria such as GDP, population, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum-seekers.

While the European Commission’s proposal would trigger a highly complex legislative process, it would ultimately need the agreement of member states through the council.

It is understood Ireland and the UK’s current opt-outs on justice and home affairs issues will not come into play at this stage, with both countries already signed up to the temporary protection directive.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York yesterday, the UN’s Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland said the “entire international community must accept a fair share of the refugee burden”.

While noting that the situation in the Mediterranean had improved following the EU’s commitment to triple its resources in the area, Mr Sutherland said the root causes of the migration crisis must be addressed.

“We need to engage in a systematic, intense dialogue among countries of origin, transit and destination, a structured conversation informed by evidence-based policy solutions,” he said.

Speaking in Brussels ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers yesterday, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said Ireland was prepared to play its part to address the migrant crisis, but would await the proposals.

“We give a general welcome to the principle,” he said, saying Ireland was “concerned about the issue”.

Mr Noonan said Minister for Defence Simon Coveney was currently negotiating a protocol with Italy and Malta to ensure that the naval vessel pledged by Ireland to the Mediterranean rescue effort was purely involved in search-and-rescue activities and that there was a port of call where picked-up migrants could be left in safety.

Migrant crisis

France

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also pleaded for UN support to help deal with the migrant crisis at an address to the Security Council yesterday.

Ireland has repeatedly said that its involvement in the Mediterranean would be limited to humanitarian activities, with any military mission necessitating the ‘triple lock’ mechanism, including Dáil approval.

A spokesman for the UK’s home office said it would oppose any non-voluntary proposal. “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer.”