Solidarity and responsibility-sharing have always played a central role in debates and discussions on common EU asylum policy. In recent years, in particular southern Mediterranean countries at the external borders of the EU have received large numbers of asylum seekers, and they have lacked sufficient capacity to respond adequately to these arrivals and to offer the standards of protection applicable within the EU.
In 2008, in response to the large numbers of asylum seekers arriving to Malta, the EU adopted a mechanism to enable a joint EU response in cases where a Member State’s particular geographic or demographic situation means migratory pressures result in disproportionate pressure on that Member State. In these cases, the mechanism would allow for the physical transfer of beneficiaries of international protection to another Member State via a process known as ‘intra-EU relocation’.
In order to initiate relocation programmes, the EU Pilot Project on Intra-EU Relocation from Malta (EUREMA) was implemented under ERF Community Actions in 2010 and 2011. EUREMA was the first multilateral intra-EU relocation initiative, and was led by the Maltese authorities and implemented by IOM with the participation of ten Member States - France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK - with the active involvement of UNHCR. The results were modest - a total of 255 relocation places were pledged by the ten participating Member States, of which 227 persons were eventually relocated to six of the pledging states (France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia and the UK).
The refugee and migrant flows to Malta resulting from the conflicts in Libya and Syria have prompted new calls for solidarity and for sustainable responses from the EU. On 12 May 2011, the European Commission organised a Ministerial-level pledging conference for the relocation of migrants from Malta and the resettlement of migrants from North Africa. A second EUREMA programme, known as EUREMA II and financed as an ERF Community Actions Programme and implemented by IOM on behalf of the Maltese government, began in 2012 and concluded in mid-2013. Seven Member States - Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia - pledged a total of 91 places under EUREMA II. An additional five Member States - Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain (together with the EEA countries Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) – made bilateral arrangements with Malta that added another 265 relocation places. In the December 2011 Communication on ‘enhanced intra-EU solidarity in the field of asylum’, the Commission proposed a voluntary permanent relocation scheme. The proposal was supported by the European Parliament, which called on the Commission to submit a communication on a framework for the transfer of protection of beneficiaries of international protection (including mutual recognition of asylum decisions) by 2014.
It remains clear that a limited number of Member States continue to receive the vast majority of asylum seekers coming to Europe. Those at the border of the EU, such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta, continue to struggle to manage refugee movements while simultaneously dealing with the effects of the financial crisis. As things currently stand, the EU asylum framework does not adequately address these disparities between Member States. In the future, this may need to be addressed outside of the current Dublin Regulation and through mechanisms where, perhaps under resettlement and relocation programmes, at least a minimum level of Member State participation is obligatory.
Relocation and resettlement: competing instruments?
Both EUREMA projects benefited from ERF funding. Now, under the AMIF, €360 million has been allotted for resettlement, relocation and other Specific Actions, with the funding mechanism that applies to relocation very similar to that formulated for resettlement. Both are voluntary schemes that operate with lump sums for each person resettled or relocated (€6,000 or €10,000 for those resettled depending on the category they fall under; €6,000 per person relocated), resulting in two potentially competing instruments operating in parallel. Indeed, traditional resettlement countries such as Finland and Sweden have explicitly questioned if relocation comes at the expense of resettlement. In some cases, places for relocated refugees have been included within national refugee resettlement quotas, directly bearing out these concerns.
Similar to its role in relation to resettlement, the European Asylum Support Office assists Member States in ‘promoting, facilitating and coordinating exchanges of information and other activities related to relocation’ within the EU. In line with the JHA Council Conclusions of March 2012,65 EASO has completed a full evaluation of the first EUREMA project66 and is currently evaluating the EUREMA II project. In the context of relocation, UNHCR has recommended that further refugee status determination procedures are not undertaken in receiving countries, so as to avoid potential divergences in approaches in the treatment of beneficiaries of international protection.