Three countries – Hungary, Poland and Austria – have not taken in a single asylum seeker under an EU relocation scheme agreed at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.
The three states' refusal to act on their binding commitments to take part in the scheme, which was designed to ease pressure on Greece and Italy by dispersing asylum seekers across the EU, has led to a warning of potential legal action by the European Commission.
The latest progress report from the commission shows that 18,418 asylum seekers have been relocated to date – far short of the 160,000 places EU states pledged to make available by September this year. The pace of relocations has picked up in recent months, but it remains below what is needed to meet the September deadline.
The report shows most EU member states are relocating regularly, but while Austria has formally pledged to take in 50 people from Italy, it, along with Hungary and Poland, has yet to admit a single person under the scheme. "This is in breach of their legal obligations, the commitments taken towards Greece and Italy and the fair sharing of responsibility," said EU commissioner for migration and home affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos.
He added that the commission would decide next month whether to take legal cases against Hungary and Poland.
“It cannot be that while the majority of member states are making real efforts in a real European spirit, others continue to show no solidarity,” Mr Avramopoulos said.
“This is why I call on Poland and Hungary, who have not relocated a single person in need of protection, to start doing so right now.”
Apart from Warsaw and Budapest, which took the whole relocation scheme to the European Court of Justice, the commission also singled out the Czech Republic, saying it has not been active on relocation for a year.
The generally slow acceptance rate has left tens of thousands of people living in unsanitary and overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy, prompting the commission regularly to admonish EU capitals for failing to deliver on their promises. This is the first time the commission has singled out individual countries and threatened them with a so-called infringement procedure.
On Thursday the European Parliament is set to formally adopt a resolution that accuses member states of dragging their feet on relocation.
The relocation plan was agreed in 2015 amid record-high arrivals of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa into the EU. The bloc took in some 1.6 million people in 2014-2016. Greece has seen numbers drop since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey that cut off this route, but Italy is now under bigger pressure with arrivals from the shores of Libya.
The EU’s border agency Frontex said this week that in April nearly 13,000 people disembarked in Italy, up a fifth from March.
The commission report calls on states to increase their capacity to process application requests, avoid overly restrictive preferences and delays and give priority to applications from vulnerable applicants, in particular unaccompanied minors.
It notes that the rate of relocation from Italy has been slower – fewer than 6,000 of the 18,418 relocations have been from Italy to another state – compared to Greece, partly due to disputes between Italian authorities and their counterparts elsewhere over security checks.
The commission called on Ireland and Estonia to resolve its disputes over security assessments with the Italians, and urged a number of other states, including Germany and France, to increase their monthly pledges for asylum seekers in Italy.
Pointing to delays on the Italian side, the report says Rome should urgently speed up the procedure to identify and register eligible applicants.