How a solidarity approach would enhance EU asylum policies
Large numbers of people are stuck in often inadequate conditions in overcrowded camps in Greece and elsewhere. Last year, EU member states agreed to take in 160,000 people stranded in Greece and Italy as part of the Emergency Relocation Mechanism, but less than 8,000 places have been made available and only just over 1,500 people (i.e. less than 1%) have actually been relocated.
This situation is unacceptable. People already traumatised by war and persecution are unnecessarily exposed to yet more physical and emotional hardship; their mental health suffers and conflicts between groups of protection seekers become inevitable. Not everybody arriving in Greece can claim asylum there – the Greek asylum system is overburdened and the country at breaking point as it is – but the Dublin Regulation prescribes that they must do so, or (following the EU-Turkey deal) be returned to Turkey. The Dublin Regulation was to ensure that only one state would be responsible for any one applicant, to avoid multiple files in different states and prevent secondary movement of protection seekers within Europe. Although the aim of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) has been to gradually harmonise asylum procedures across the EU, widely divergent recognition rates and reception conditions are the reality and this fact encourages movement of protection seekers beyond their country of entry.
Naturally enough, apart from trying to reunite with family members, people will gravitate towards countries that will give them a fairer deal and avoid those that are known for harsh reception conditions, low acceptance rates and a hostile response to refugees. The result has been that Germany, Austria and Sweden have taken in the bulk of refugees, while the majority of member states are shirking their responsibilities. What is needed is not just a harmonised legal standard, but a sense of solidarity. Solidarity means having an agreement of feeling or action, and providing mutual support. This in turn is dependent on a sense of trust, the assurance that everybody is doing all they can; in other words, “inability to comply” has to be distinguished from “unwillingness to comply”. Member states need to agree on objective evaluation criteria in order to establish the sense of trust and solidarity needed to overcome the current impasse.
The following tools may help in the medium and long-term:
• increasing European Asylum Support Office (EASO) funding and expanding its mandate,
• increasing funding through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to incentivise resettlements by covering a greater part of national expenses
• activate the EU Temporary Protection Directive, which was adopted after Kosovo but never applied. It incorporates provisions on solidarity and balancing of effort.
The provision of legal routes of access to asylum (such as humanitarian visas, sponsorship schemes, extended family reunification) will help people avoid taking risky journeys and make the movement of protection seekers easier to manage. In the short term, immediate intra-EU relocation - considering the preferences of protection seekers and providing financial incentives to host countries - would quickly relieve people currently trapped in Greece and elsewhere.
The majority of people are happy to share resources with complete strangers within a national context, for example through the provision of welfare services funded by taxes. Achieving solidarity on a regional and ultimately a global level, might well be one of the most important tasks humanity is facing in the near future.