Greater EU effort needed to stop ‘shopping for asylum status’

Many refugees leaving smaller EU countries in favour of life in Germany, Sweden and UK

President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani during the EU-Latin America Parliamentary Assembly in Florence, Italy, last last month. File photograph: Maurizio Degl’ Innocenti/EPA

The European Union has been urged to introduce measures aimed at stopping refugees and migrants travelling from one country to another on the Continent "shopping for asylum status".

Speaking in Brussels, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani called for a common agreement from all EU member states on how they implement asylum procedures.

“At the moment the rules are not properly harmonised,” said Mr Tajani. “The rules have to be the same for everybody. Otherwise we will end up with people shopping for asylum status, which undermines our credibility.”

A migrant shouts to journalists from a bus window during a police operation to clear out a makeshift migrant camp at the disused Hellenikon airport in Athens, Greece, in recent days. File photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Under a revision of the Dublin Convention, which requires asylum-seekers to make their application for protection in the first EU state they reach, the European Parliament is calling on nations to take extra measures to stop unregistered asylum-seekers from travelling on to other EU countries.


Family reunification

The reform of the convention also calls for more avenues for family reunification and greater solidarity among member states in relocating refugees.

Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikstrom, rapporteur on the proposed changes, warned that secondary movement of asylum-seekers to countries such as Germany, Sweden and the UK would only further cement the trend of a small number of countries shouldering the burden of refugee resettlement.

A number of non-governmental organisations said many asylum-seekers who relocated to eastern and central Europe were choosing to leave for western nations because of a lack of opportunities, language barriers and a desire to reunite with families.

Adrás Kováts of the Hungarian Association for Migrants said Hungary’s failure to support integration services was pushing new arrivals abroad in search of opportunities.

Homeless shelters

"There's an image of Hungary as a country sealed off from asylum-seekers but that is only partially true," he said, adding that small numbers of refugees and migrants had been granted asylum. Mr Kováts said the vast majority of these were ending up in homeless shelters.

He said a “hostile public attitude” to migrants was “to a great extent” being fuelled by the government’s communication on immigration, which was being taken up by the general public.

Agnese Lace from Latvia's Centre for Public Policy said low salaries, a lack of jobs and language difficulties meant asylum-seekers had little incentive to remain in the country. To date, Latvia has admitted 318 asylum-seekers under the EU's refugee resettlement scheme. However, according to Ms Lace, some 313 have left the country seeking opportunities elsewhere.

“We can’t force anyone to stay, that’s not going to happen unless we want to close all the borders in Europe. We must create a situation where there is a starting point which helps them become fully fledged members of society.”

Positive results

Damien Careme, mayor of the Grande-Synthe suburb of Dunkirk in northern France, highlighted the positive results of carrying out public awareness campaigns to educate local communities on asylum-seekers.

Mr Careme, who was behind the construction of Grande-Synthe refugee camp in 2015, writes a letter every month to the local people explaining the circumstances which force asylum-seekers to flee their homes.

The Grande-Synthe community is set to vote overwhelmingly in favour of left-wing policies in the upcoming French parliamentary elections, rejecting the policies of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, he said.

“I have never had any complaints or demonstrations from the local population saying get rid of these people, deport them. There is a basic relationship of confidence between the mayor and the local population.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast