Ireland has welcomed a “crucial” agreement to overhaul the EU migration system struck between member states against the backdrop of what Tánaiste Micheál Martin said was “unprecedented migratory flow”.
As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland was experiencing a refugee crisis on a scale “never imagined”, the European Council said it had taken a “decisive step” towards modernising its approach to asylum and migration, after reforms had been blocked for years due to disagreement between member states.
Under the new agreement struck in Luxembourg this week, all EU countries must help the frontline border states that see the most migrant arrivals to cope, but they can choose how to do so, either by financial contributions, sending personnel or other capacity building, or accepting some asylum seekers themselves.
The minimum number of people who should be relocated from frontline states to have their asylum claims processed elsewhere in the EU is set at 30,000 annually.
The reforms include a charge of €20,000 per head for member countries that refuse to host refugees. In Tipperary on Friday, Mr Varadkar said, however, that providing accommodation to migrants and asylum seekers was “not something you can buy your way out of”.
“Under European law and international law, people can come here and they can seek international protection and they will continue to do so, whether it’s from Ukraine or from other parts of the world.”
Mr Martin said Ireland had supported an EU approach that focused on “burden sharing”.
With agreement reached in principle, negotiations are now scheduled between the European Parliament and European Commission, with the aim of having a new system finalised before European elections take place next June. However, migration NGOs said they expect the positions agreed will be more or less those ultimately adopted.
Minister of State James Browne, who attended the Justice and Home Affairs Council where the deal was struck this week, welcomed the developments, which he said aimed to create a “fairer, more efficient and more sustainable” system across the EU.
“This has been a long-standing challenge for the EU and there have been significant efforts made in recent times to progress reform in this area, so agreement this week was crucial in that regard,” he said, adding that Ireland “fully supports” work done at EU level to get agreement.
Other aspects of the deal include streamlining the asylum procedure and making it uniform through the EU, allowing migrants to be rapidly assessed at the border before they enter the EU. They can be quickly rejected if their applications are deemed unfounded or inadmissible, and asylum and deportation procedures should be limited to a duration of six months.
Senior Government sources in Dublin said Ireland is taking more than most when it comes to refugees, calculated on the basis of per head of population, expressing the hope that an overhauled system and the prospect of fines could spread the load more evenly.
Privately, Coalition figures believe migration fuelled by conflict and climate change will be a lasting feature of the political landscape in Ireland and Europe, with more visible and common manifestations such as the use of modular accommodation.
Nick Henderson, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council, said the proposals contain “some good, much bad and some particularly ugly”. He welcomed the prospect of a mandatory solidarity mechanism between member states, but said the proposals will make it harder for refugees to access a fair asylum procedure and will put them at a greater risk of detention, and said there was the prospect of longer and more complex procedures.