The legal avenues for asylum seekers will only reduce irregular migration if they offer meaningful refugee resettlement for the large number of persons in need of protection abroad, which does not seem to be the intent at this time. Unless the announced European Agenda for Migration changes tack quite considerably, the EU is doing more of the same and continues to expect a different result.
— François Crépeau
Commission to speed up migration reforms
James Panichi, European Voice, March 4, 2015
With thousands of asylum-seekers continuing to arrive on European soil, the European Commission has announced it will bring forward a planned review of its migration policy.
The European Commission has announced plans to place immigration attachés in its diplomatic offices in developing countries, to help create legal avenues for asylum-seekers who would otherwise attempt to cross the Mediterranean by boat
“It is very important to adopt rules of legal migration,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said today (4 March). “Which means that those who want to seek legal asylum will be able to do it in the country of origin.”
Avramopoulos made the announcement after a meeting of the college of commissioners which was dominated by migration issues. The meeting of the college, which is the European Union’s executive council, was held as the death toll of the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean rose.
It is believed that 10 asylum-seekers died between Tuesday and Wednesday, while close to a thousand people were rescued off the coast of Libya in seven, separate coast guard missions over 24 hours.
Avramopoulos said the tragedy demonstrated the need for a renewed strategy on the part of the EU and announced that the broad reform of European migration policy, the European Agenda on Migration, would be brought forward.
Commission officials had initially expected the agenda, which was one of the 10 priority areas of reform announced by the Juncker Commission, to be completed by the end of 2015. But in the light of the recent asylum-seeker crisis, the Commission has agreed to bring the reforms forward to mid-May.
An estimated 3,500 asylum-seekers or undocumented migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year – a spike in arrivals largely linked to violence in Syria and Libya.
Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the Commission, said the time had come for a “fresh approach in the way we work together” focusing on four, general policy areas : better border protection strategies, combating people-smuggling, greater co-ordination among EU countries in resettling refugees, and an improved system to attract skilled migrants.
While Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said the challenge of migration would also become central to her portfolio and would be part of the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 March.
“There is a full understanding on the part of the EU that this is not just one of many issues : this is theissue which will measure the credibility of our desire to be united as Europeans,” Mogherini said.
While the announcement offered no substantial policy changes, the suggestion that the EU may consider processing asylum requests in third countries suggests the Commission is ready to consider new strategies to fight the problem of people-smuggling.
However, Avramopoulos was also careful to manage expectations of what Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, could achieve under its current mandate. “We have to be realistic : Frontex is not a European border protection system,” Avramopoulos said. “If we want one we will have to build one.”
Under current EU arrangements, border protection is strictly a matter for national authorities and Frontex, which has an operating budget of €3 million a month, is not able to launch search and rescue operations without the participation of member states.
However, Avramopoulos said there was now an acceptance on the part of EU member states, that the asylum-seeker crisis in the Mediterranean was a shared responsibility. “Solidarity needs to stop being a slogan – it needs to become a reality,” he said. “We cannot ignore the situation of our neighbouring countries.”