By PATRICK STEPHENSON
BRUSSELS – On 12 April the European Commission adopted its 11th progress report on migrant relocation and resettlement. The numbers are up, although they remain well below what the Commission has asked of member states. If the pattern continues as is, however, the EU will flatly fail to relocate all eligible migrants by the Council’s agreed deadline of September 2017.
March saw 2,465 persons relocated, of which around 1,600 were from Greece and 800 from Italy. That’s a 27-percent increase over February, but still far below the monthly targets of 3,000 relocated from Greece and 1,500 from Italy. So far this year, the EU has relocated 16,340 migrants in total: 11,339 coming from Greece and 5,001 from Italy.
The overall proportion of successful relocations vis-à-vis eligible migrants has improved, in large measure because the number of eligible migrants has greatly fallen off. In July 2015 the Council declared that 40,000 migrant in Greece and Italy were ‘in clear need of international protection’. By September of that same year the figure was upwardly revised to 120,000. Now, however, the Commission says that only 14,000 ‘relocation candidates’ remain in Greece, with another 3,500 registered for relocation in Italy.
One major problem limiting relocation is the low or non-existent participation of some EU member-states, particularly those in Eastern Europe. Hungary and Poland still refuse to participate in the relocation scheme, while Austria has only now announced that it will participate. Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Croatia relocate in very small numbers.
However, nearly all of the member states are laggards by one degree or another. Only Malta and Finland are on track to achieve their relocation targets on time. Other countries such as Germany already have large migrant populations from 2015 which are not counted in the relocation figures, and are loathe to shoulder the burden of others.
Looking ahead, the report calls on the member states to meet their monthly targets and to avoid “overly restrictive preferences and delays and limit requirements”. It also urges, in opaque language, for them to “[s]how more flexibility” in conducting additional security interviews – an apparent reference to grumbling from receiving countries that Italian security checks are not sufficiently thorough. It also asks national capitals to give priority to vulnerable migrants, particularly unaccompanied children.
Conversely, the report also threatens legal action if member states do not raise their numbers to the desired targets. “If Member States do not increase their relocations soon, and if the pressure on Greece and Italy is not alleviated, the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers under the Treaties,” it states.
The picture improves regarding migrant resettlement. (Relocation refers to bringing in migrants now in Greece and Italy, while resettlement refers to bringing in migrants who are applying for refugee status from third countries such as Syria and Lebanon.)
The Commission reports that two-thirds of the 22,504 migrants eligible for resettlement have been brought into the EU, with 15,492 migrants resettled in 21 EU countries. Poland, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary are not among those countries, however.
All the same, it’s hard not to wonder if the threat is empty. Now more than ever, EU-bashing is popular, and nothing seems to more strengthen quasi-authoritarians such as Viktor Orbán than standing firm on sovereignty while facing down EU bureaucrats and fines. In the migration dilemma, the EU’s growing east-west divide is particularly glaring.
The problem is not going away. Our related article in this issue – “Journey Without End” – shows that migrant flows are not diminishing, but only shifting from the eastern to the central and western Mediterranean, with migrants now coming more from sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to Syria or Afghanistan. The relocation and resettlement scheme, noble as it is, offers only a temporary solution to a more permanent problem. Once September 2017 is behind us, the migrants will keep coming. Then what?