EU ministers force quota decision on refugee crisis ahead of summit
EU interior ministers on Tuesday imposed a quota plan to relocate 120,000 refugees across the Union, in a rare imposition of majority voting to force a decision that is opposed by four eastern European countries. Also on Tuesday the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published reports on migration and the current crisis.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, will today chair an emergency summit of the EU28 leaders to discuss the refugee crisis including Greece’s border checks and providing direct aid to refugees in the Middle East.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary voted against Tuesday's proposal, while Finland abstained.
The Financial Times reports that under a compromise that was intended to take some of political heat out of the decision, not all the 120,000 people will be relocated immediately. Instead, 66,000 will be added to 40,000 approved in July. The remaining 54,000 will not be distributed until next year.
The vote brings the total number of refugees to be relocated to 160,000, all of whom will come from Greece and Italy, whose governments have been overwhelmed by migrants coming across the Mediterranean from Turkey and northern Africa as they flee war and violence in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.
Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean asylum-seekers would qualify for the programme, but the logistics of how they will be distributed are still to be worked out.
Deutsche Welle said the situation on the ground was tense, with more refugees pouring in to Austria from Hungary on Tuesday. Around 1,500 refugees had arrived at the Nickelsdorf crossing and around the same number were expected to come in later, police told reporters. The village witnessed 9,900 refugee arrivals on Monday. Nearly 200 migrants came to Austria through the Heiligenkreuz crossing, police said.
Around 600 people had entered Germany through Freilassing at the Austrian border, German police told reporters in Rosenheim in Bavaria. Hundreds more were expected to reach the southern German state later on Tuesday. German rail company Deutsche Bahn has meanwhile temporarily halted trains between Salzburg for Munich, which is currently hosting the Oktoberfest.
DW reported that the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that much more needs to be done to help refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. More than 477,906 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, according to UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
Sigmar Gabriel, German vice chancellor, who is on a trip to Jordan, said that countries needed to increase aid to the United Nations in the Middle East. People there needed help, Gabriel said, adding that "they would also move" to other countries if they received no support.
OECD countries are facing an unprecedented refugee crisis and the situation requires a comprehensive and coordinated international response to address the immediate needs of asylum seekers and the longer-term challenge of helping them integrate. This is the main message of two new OECD documents, the 2015 International Migration Outlook and a Policy Brief on the Refugee Crisis.
Launching the reports in Paris, Angel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, said: “European leaders need to step up to the challenge so that Europe as a whole emerges stronger economically, socially and politically. Europe has the experience and the capacity to respond.”
Until the end of August, the European Border Agency FRONTEX counted more than 500,000 illegal border crossings, nearly double the 280,000 recorded for the whole of 2014. Europe will probably record more than one million asylum applications in 2015. Up to 450,000 of these are expected to obtain a status of humanitarian migrant and eventually settle.
“The human cost of this refugee crisis is appalling and countries need to quickly agree a fair allocation of refugees within Europe, and ensure that such vast numbers of troubled people receive shelter, food and support. It’s essential that they also address the medium and long-term policy responses to this crisis,” said Gurría. “An emerging challenge will be the integration of the many new refugees who will remain in European host countries. We need to scale-up and adapt programmes so that refugees can integrate as quickly as possible in their new homes and make best use of their skills. We should all remember that migration is not a liability, but an asset.” (Read the full speech here)
The OECD said asylum seekers today tend to be more educated than in the past. At the same time, "we are recording a greater number of unaccompanied minors, which poses particular problems. Most importantly, asylum seekers are using new and diverse migration routes, which calls for immediate action and support from countries which have limited experience in dealing with such flows."
In the short run, processing and supporting such large numbers of asylum-seekers will pose daunting challenges and will be costly, the OECD says. In the medium- to long-run, much will depend on how well refugees are integrated. This will require intensive efforts to provide language training, assess individual skills, address health and social problems, and working with employers and unions to help boost refugees’ chances of employment. Past experience of refugee crises suggests that if properly supported in their integration efforts, migrants can contribute significantly to the development of our countries.
The International Migration Outlook report also stresses that most migration to Europe and the OECD still occurs through legal channels, outside of the asylum system. For 2014, it estimates about 4.3m permanent entries to OECD countries, up 6% from 2013 (less than one fourth is free mobility within EU). "While humanitarian migration had the largest increases in recent years, in absolute levels the increase was much stronger among free mobility flows within the European Union. Free mobility also remains the second most important entry category, after family migration.
Not only has migration picked up, there are also some positive signs regarding improved labour market outcomes of immigrants, notes the report. Overall, the employment rate of immigrants in the OECD increased by 1.3 percentage points between 2011 and 2014."
Pic above is of an operation earlier this year by Frontex, the EU borders agency, in the Poseidon Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean region.