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European Union: Commission Adopts New Measures to Respond to Refugee Crisis

(Sept. 30, 2015) On September 9, 2015, the European Commission adopted a Communication that contains short- and long-term measures to address the current migrant crisis, to assist countries of entry through the creation of “hotspots,” and to address the root causes of irregular migration. The concrete operational, budgetary, and legal proposals are all annexed to the Commission’s Communication and were published on the same date. (European Commission, Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, Managing the Refugee Crisis: Immediate Operational, Budgetary and Legal Measures Under the European Agenda on Migration, COM(2015) 490 final (Sept. 9, 2015), EUROPA.) Some of the measures are highlighted below.

Creation of “Hot Spot” Areas 

The Commission came up with the idea to identify “hotspot” areas, areas on the external borders of the EU that face extraordinary pressure from migratory inflow. The Commission cited as examples the areas of Sicily and Lampedusa in Italy and the islands of Lesbos and Kos in Greece. These hotspots are where most migrants have been entering the Union during the current crisis. The Commission recommended that the EU provide operational support to Italy and Greece through the EU Agencies “Frontex” (the agency that promotes, coordinates, and develops European border management), the European Asylum Support Office, and Europol, to ensure that migrants are registered and to prevent them from moving to other states without being registered first. (Id. Annex II: Migration Management Support Teams Working in ‘Hotspot’ Areas, EUROPA (Sept. 23, 2015); Mission and Tasks, Frontex website (last visited Sept. 25, 2015).)

Creation of a Permanent Relocation Mechanism for All EU Member States

The Commission also proposed a crisis relocation mechanism that is intended to apply in emergency situations when a Member State encounters a migration crisis. The Commission will define when a particular situation meets the criteria for activation of the mechanism, based on the number of asylum applications an Member State has received during the last six months and on the number of irregular crossings of refugees into national territory during the same period. The mechanism will also take under consideration the needs of the asylum seekers, their family situation, and their skills. (Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council, Establishing a Crisis Relocation Mechanism and Amending Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 Establishing the Criteria and Mechanisms for Determining the Member State Responsible for Examining an Application for International Protection Lodged in One of the Member States by a Third Country National or a Stateless Person, COM(2015) 450 final (Sept. 9, 2015), EUROPA.)

Adoption of a Common European List of Safe Countries of Origin

The Commission plans to introduce a regulation on a common list of safe countries of origin to enable a faster application process for requests for asylum that originate from such countries. The safe countries of origin concept means that asylum seekers from such countries will be subject to accelerated border procedures and their asylum requests will be denied. The criteria for establishing a country as “safe” include ratification of major human rights treaties; conformity with the Copenhagen political criteria, such as being a democracy and in compliance with the rule of law; non-involvement in armed conflict; and non-application of torture or degrading treatment as forms of punishment. The Commission has recognized the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey as safe countries. (Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council, Establishing an EU Common List of Safe Countries of Origin for the Purposes of Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on Common Procedures for Granting and Withdrawing International Protection, and Amending Directive 2013/32/EU, COM(2015)452 final (Sept. 9, 2015), EUROPA.)

Currently, EU law does not contain an EU common list of safe countries of origin. Twelve Member States have already established their own list of countries considered to be safe; these States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. The UK has its own list, which also includes a list of African countries deemed safe countries in regard only to males, i.e., Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. In addition to these African nations, it includes Ecuador, which is also deemed safe only in regard to males. (An EU ‘Safe Countries of Origin’ List, EUROPA (last visited Sept. 29, 2015).)

Formulation of a Return Policy

The Commission has drafted a common Return Handbook and an EU Action Plan on Return to provide practical advice to and clarify procedures for the Member States. (RETURN HANDBOOK [draft version, adoption to follow], EUROPA (last visited Sept. 24, 2015).)

Participation in External Aspects of the Refugee Crisis

Thus far, the EU has provided €3.9 billion (about US$4.4 billion) in humanitarian, development, economic, and stabilization assistance to address the needs of internally displaced persons and refugees in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. In addition, the EU has cooperated with other nations in diplomatic initiatives to find a political solution for countries afflicted with political instability, at present including Iraq, Libya, and Syria. (Joint Communication to the European Parliament and to the Council Addressing the Refugee Crisis in Europe: The Role of EU External Action, JOIN(2015) 40 (Sept. 9, 2015).)

Trust Fund for Africa  

The Commission has also allocated €1.8 billion to establish an Emergency Trust Fund for Stability in Africa, in order to address the root causes of irregular migration in the region. (A European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, EUROPA (Sept. 9, 2015).)