It was three years ago that a surge of refugees threatened to overwhelm the European Union. And now the arrival of migrants into Europe is again causing a political crisis. EU leaders are considering on an urgent basis the revamping of the stalled asylum system of the block even though the number of refugees now arriving in Europe through the Mediterranean Sea is a very small part of the wave that was seen in 2015.
The push for change has been emboldened by the surge of popularity of anti-immigration political parties throughout the EU. For example, in Italy, the new populist Italian government rose to power arguing that the country had borne the maximum of the migration wave and that the neighbors should do more. While Italy received only 77 million euros in EU aid, the country has had to spend 4.3 billion euros ($5 billion) on migrants in 2017.
The first nation a migrant enters has the responsibility for processing asylum claims – which is costly as well as time consuming, according to the current EU asylum rules as noted in the so-called Dublin regulation. This means that Italy, Malta, Greece and Spain have to face a larger burden. While the rule is often violated, most of the immigrants tend to pass through the passport-free travel zone of Europe to enter the richer countries such as Germany and Sweden.
It has been two years that a decision for revamping of the asylum rules in the EU has not be arrived at. This proposed new system would deal with relocation of refugees throughout the bloc in a situation that a gateway country is overwhelmed.
There is opposition among southern countries about the separate provisions for tightening of obligations on handling initial registrations while countries like Hungary are not completely ready to accept their share of refugees.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing opposition from her ruling coalition. The Interior Minister Horst Seehofer – leader of the Bavarian sister party of her Christian Democratic Union, has virtually rebelled against her. Seehofer has threatened to begin returning migrants from the German border if Merkel fails to secure an EU agreement which would ensure return of migrants to the countries of their first registration.
However, while these debates rage through the EU, it is fact that the number of refugees coming to the EU had dropped. Over 1 million migrants reached Europe following the escalation of Russian bombing in Syria’s civil war in 2015. Most wanted to reach Germany through the Balkans after landing Greece. That flow came to an end following a deal with Turkey in March 2016 where Turkey agreed to accept returning of illegal migrants from Greece against an EU aid of 6 billion euros. Last year, there was migration of about 172,000 refugees into the EU.
A populist backlash against establishment parties was fueled by the surge of migrants in 2015-2016 in addition to fears of locals and the opening up of divisions among EU members. while countries like Hungary, Slovenia and Macedonia constructed fences along their sections of borders, in others such as Germany and Sweden, some border controls were reintroduced on a temporary basis. Further, concerns about crime and terror in EU brought in by the refugees, many of whom are Muslim, were fanned by nationalist politicians. This makes the EU settlement on refugees very important.
(Adapted from Fortune.com)