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Only 3% of the more than a million migrants arriving in Italy and Greece in 2015 were returned to their countries of origin or relocated across the EU as refugees, figures released by the European Commission today (10 February) revealed.
EU sources told EurActiv that many of those not sent back or settled had travelled elsewhere in the bloc to claim asylum. Eurostat figures for 2015 show that there were almost 1.3 million asylum applications across the EU. The data is not yet finalised so the final figure is expected to be much higher.
“We must make clear that those migrants that arrive in the Union will be protected if they are entitled but it is not up to them to decide in which member states that will happen,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference in Brussels.
“Migrants that do not qualify for protection will be returned,” he added, before claiming that once the hotspot system of registration centres in Italy and Greece was working “things would be totally different.”
Greece has promised its hotspots will be ready by February. Currently there are 12,342 reception places in Greece, which committed in October to provide for 50,000 places.
While Italy has enough places, according to Commission progress reports, it has only 420 of the 1,252 pre-return accommodation places it promised to accommodate migrants where migrants can live before they are sent back.
Commission figures exposed the failure of the European Union to deal with the migration crisis that has caused some countries to reinstate border controls in its passport-free Schengen area.
1.05 million migrants arrived by sea in Italy and Greece last year. Just 497 were relocated to other member states. 33,590 were returned, either voluntarily or by force.
1.015 million migrants were not sent back or resettled, instead travelling through the EU in an attempt to reach countries such as Germany.
Avramopoulos admitted that “Europe was taken by surprise”. “The ones who have already crossed the borders to central Europe. They had something in their mind,” he said,
“They had countries in their mind as destination such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark. To be realistic no obstacles, no fences, no rafts would prevent them moving to their destination.”
He added, “As from now it is not up to them to decide where to go. This is very clear.”
But the Commissioner warned reporters that going back to national policies on immigration would risk “returning to the dark shadows of Europe’s history”.
Part of the blame lies beyond Italy and Greece. Other EU countries promised to resettle 66,400 refugees, who had successfully claimed asylum in Greece. Only 218 refugees have been relocated.
In Italy only 279 refugees were resettled elsewhere in the EU. 15 member states had promised 966 relocation places.
“If all member states had done what they supposed to so the landscape and situation would be very different today,” said Avramopoulos.
The Commission today recommended suspending a third of the relocations of migrants to Austria, after a request last year by Vienna. The executive also launched legal action against Italy , Greece and other member states, including Germany, for not putting its common asylum rules onto national lawbooks. Ultimately the infringement proceedings can lead to fines.
It also said it wanted Greece to return to the Dublin Agreement, which is EU law that means migrants must claim asylum in the country they arrive in.
Today’s reports will feed into discussions by EU leaders in Brussels on 18 February at the European Council summit.
The Commission also released a report on the negotiations with Turkey. The EU has promised a visa liberalisation scheme for Turkish nationals, and €3 billion financial support to help it deal with Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.
Many of those refugees have travelled from Turkey to Greece, but a deal under negotiation will make it easier to return some of them to Turkey.
This “readmission” agreement should be ready from 1 June this year and the executive has made proposals for EU leaders to agree next week to make this happen.
Average daily arrivals from Turkey to Greece were 2,186 in January, compared to 3,575 in December and 6,929 in October.
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