According to the Dublin Regulation (which first came into force in 1997 and was altered in 2003 and 2013), asylum seekers have to go through the process of applying for asylum in the first EU country they enter.
While this may not have seemed such a bad idea in the past, when numbers of asylum seekers were much lower, after the refugee crisis began in 2015 it became clear the entry and transit countries in Europe were becoming overburdened with asylum seekers.
Countries such as Greece and Italy, in particular, could not stop new arrivals as many of them came by sea. Other countries belonging to the transit routes, like Hungary, chose to virtually shut down their borders.
When the main routes, by which refugees stranded in Italy and Greece reached central and northern European countries, began to close, it became even more difficult for asylum seekers to leave Mediterranean shores. They faced not only the risk of being sent back but also no legal way to travel across Europe and reach their desired destinations such as Sweden, Germany and France. Many still risked the journey and in richer European countries asylum applications rose dramatically.
In order to share the burden of taking in refugees across EU member states, a temporary relocation system was developed in late 2015, to counter the negative effects of the Dublin Regulation.
The goal was to divide the asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy across other European countries, especially those that were not believed to be directly affected by the refugee crisis. Everywhere else, the Dublin Regulation would continue to be respected. However, for certain nationalities there was now a legal way to enter into other European countries.
The EU pledged to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy but, as of 2017, only around 40,000 have been relocated.
Are all EU member states in favour of this?
No, not at all, which has already led the EU to open sanction procedures against states not implementing the relocation scheme, most notably Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbánwas was quoted in the Guardian claiming the relocation scheme was ‘blackmail from Brussels’ and Poland’s interior minister, Mariusz Błaszczak said it was an invitation for more migrants to come into Europe.
As of March 2017, only Malta and Finland had completed their relocation quotas assigned by the European Union (these quotas are not arbitrary, but take into consideration factors such as GDP and unemployment rate).
What do the numbers look like now?
To have a sense of just how much European countries are failing to meet their required quotas, here is a breakdown of the numbers done by the European Data News Hub as of September 2017. The worst offenders are Poland and Hungary, who have accepted no people so far, although Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia are also falling remarkably short.
Why aren’t all refugees relocated?
The EU relocation system does not apply to every single refugee who asks for asylum in an already overburdened EU state. The only applicants to whom it might apply is those for which “the average recognition rate of international protection at the EU level is above 75%”. What this means is that, so far, only three nationalities are affected by the system: Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis.
Refugees from Afghanistan, for example, whose asylum requests are widely denied in countries such as Germany, are not covered by the EU relocation system. UNHCR has already requested the EU to review these strict criteria and allow more refugees to be relocated.
Asylum-seekers who arrived on the Greek islands after the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016, according to Amnesty International, have also been unlawfully excluded from relocation.
How are refugees reacting?
There are still many cases of refugees leaving their country of relocation to try once again to reach their desired destinations, such as Germany.
This a problem because, before five years of asylum, refugees are not legally allowed to work or reside anywhere else in Europe. News stories about refugees leaving countries where they have been relocated are also used as propaganda against taking in more refugees, presenting them as ungrateful.
Large numbers of refugees might end up in countries they know nothing about. Considering that Germany is often held up as a paradigm for Europe, many refugees are disappointed over the lack of financial and employment opportunities in the Baltics or Portugal, for example. The benefits awarded to refugees are also meagre in these countries, in comparison to Germany.
The difficulty in finding employment after the first couple of years of assistance, along with dissimilar refugee welcoming systems, which prioritise integration in sometimes radically different ways (let us consider the German integration policy which makes language classes mandatory while in Croatia is mostly optional without an official system), is one of the many reasons why refugees are not always able to abide by the relocation scheme.
The problem is that by leaving their country of relocation, refugees become labelled ‘illegal immigrants’. They then cannot apply for work or benefits and cannot become official residents of any other European country, which forces them to go undercover.
The situation of limited mobility is only temporary, however; after five years of legally living in the EU relocation state, the refugee should acquire the same rights of free movement as any other EU resident. But before then, refugees sometimes make a dangerous choice and are often caught in other countries and forced back to the original relocation state.