Disagreements between EU members regarding border protections and refugee assistance are at the core of the EU’s slow response to the current migration crisis. 1 This article builds upon insights into V4 policy-making, and calls upon all concerned parties to work towards a compromise. 2 This should include the creation of a really common European asylum system, effective protection of the EU’s external border, respect towards the right to asylum and non-refoulement 3 principles, as well as the introduction of a common European resettlement scheme, with V4 countries assuming an active role.
To start, the solution must recognize that migration and asylum policies differ substantially between EU member states, that in practice the system of forced refugee relocation does not work, and that EU members and their societies have varied preparedness when it comes to admitting refugees. 4 It must also be acknowledged that refugees themselves simply find some countries more attractive than the others. Furthermore, EU members must observe international law, which means that refugees cannot be returned to their countries of origin by force, or subject to torture or inhumane treatment. 5
It is important to note how inefficient and costly it is to have 28 different complicated asylum systems operating within the EU. In effect, these systems end up being a “race to the bottom,” each country enacting stricter regulations in order to ensure that the burden for refugee care falls on neighboring states, and not their own – V4 countries included.
The V4 countries’ call for enhanced external border protections is legitimate, but at the same time those states have to accept that the arrival of refugees will continue, regardless of border controls. The underlying reasons for migration are irrespective of the EU members’ will and reach. The V4 countries must come to terms with the fact that they themselves must take part in the control and management of migration to the EU, which includes admitting refugees into their territories.
Practices that discourage refugee arrivals only complicate the search for a common solution, and practices that eschew responsibility for refugees’ care only create a legal vacuum for those already suffering. 6 A complete border shutdown of the EU or member states would contradict the essential values the EU was built upon. We are thus convinced that it is in the V4’s interest to actively cooperate in the creation of a common EU asylum system.
We can overcome rifts and find solutions
The current deep rifts that have developed between EU member states – the V4 and Western European states in particular – regarding migration policies and refugee quotas can be overcome. What is needed, though, is mutual understanding and the will to find solutions that are acceptable for everyone – including refugees.
On the one hand, the V4’s rightly point out that it would be very difficult to convince the majority of refugees who reached EU territory in 2015 to accept forced relocation schemes. 7 On the other hand, no EU country can reject its share of responsibility, including the admission of refugees onto its territory, especially when the end of the Syrian conflict or a lasting peace in Afghanistan and other parts of the world are not expected anytime soon.
It should also be noted that the V4 has good experience admitting refugees from culturally distant countries. Slovak and Czech civil society organizations have been helping Bosnian, Kosovar, Afghan, Iraqi, Somali and Burmese refugees integrate in their new homelands, and for months a number of volunteer initiatives have been assisting refugees on the Greek islands and in the Balkans. Church has also assumed an active part by mediating the resettlement of displaced Iraqis to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The political leaders of V4 countries should publicly and unequivocally declare their support for these initiatives and build upon such positive cases instead of inciting useless and dangerous hysteria. This positive rhetoric would form a basis that would substantially help V4 countries propose optimal ways to admit refugees, while developing the necessary infrastructure to do so.
Towards a common asylum policy
An internal reform of the EU’s existing asylum policy toolbox 8 and the creation of a true common EU asylum system, with standardized procedures for all EU territories and a single set of rights for both asylum-seekers and those already granted refugee status or subsidiary protection, 9 is at the core of our appeal.
The common system should include the establishment of an EU asylum agency that would carry out a fast and simple asylum procedure based on a single set of rules making use of EASO 10 capacities and UNHCR resources. Decision-making teams could be placed at the EU’s external border, in EU cities with large international airports, and in countries with extraordinarily high numbers of incoming refugees.
The current system authorized by the Dublin Regulation requires that asylum seekers stay in the first EU country they enter, undergoing identification procedures and security checks, while awaiting their final asylum application decisions. Under this system, if asylum seekers leave their first country of entry they should be returned to it. Yet events of the last years showed that Dublin is not working and sustainable.
The common EU asylum system we propose would maintain the asylum-seekers’ obligation to stay in their first country of EU entry prior to their asylum decisions. Yet, in the case of mass arrival of asylum seekers into one member state, all EU member states must provide resources to this country. Moreover, states may also agree on a possibility of admitting asylum seekers into national asylum systems for only proceeding their asylum claims. Once the asylum seekers will be recognized as refugees (or subsidiary protection holders), a new EU wide residence permit for refugees will enable refugees to settle in the EU country, in which they already have family members or offer of a job or other ties. This plan simultaneously addresses the fact that most refugees do not see the “front-line” states (including the V4 countries) as their eventual host countries, and the V4’s concerns that they are assuming too much responsibility when they aren’t the refugees’ final destinations. Rapid returns of rejected asylum seekers to their home countries using joint EU flights or return operations are crucial for sustainability and public support of the new system.
Such a solution would mean that those countries located on the EU border (including Slovakia, Poland and Hungary) would initially be responsible for asylum-seekers, and that asylum applications be processed by mixed EU teams on their territories. However, once successful refugees were granted EU residence they would be entitled to legally, freely and safely choose their places of residence within the EU. This would weaken countries’ motivation to discourage refugees from entering and settling within their jurisdictions, while allowing societies to adapt to refugees’ increased presence overtime, adjusting their integration policies accordingly.
To further encourage this, a EU-wide financial compensation mechanism could be established for member states that assume higher numbers of registered refugees (such as Germany). While border states, whose national budgetary capacities cannot solely fund the additional infrastructures needed for intake capacities, would receive the EU’s regular robust support. The system will also include the logistical support of all member states towards effective and swift return policies, with reintegration support provided to those migrants who volunteer to do so.
V4 as part of joint responsible and fair EU asylum, refugee and migration policy
A second goal of this proposal is to reestablish control over migration flows into the EU. This means, above all, replacing irregular migration with accessible legal and secure avenues to the EU, and offering international support to those countries hosting the largest refugee populations (Turkey, Jordan etc.). 11 Refugees’ chaotic arrivals, the confusion that ensues as they choose a host state, and their forced marches through Europe in unacceptable conditions, which lead to the loss of unaccompanied minors, 12 and claim hundreds of lives every month, 13 are in direct violation of human dignity, and undermine citizens’ faith in the functionality and security of the EU.
Thus, a European resettlement scheme that specifically sets the number of refugees to be annually resettled from transit countries to member states’ territories would help control the overwhelmed external EU borders. Further programs, such as the humanitarian visa program, or sponsor and student programs, would also be established to support the legal arrival of refugees.
The V4 countries, making use of other member states’ assistance and help, must also establish such resettlement opportunities. This is exactly where our countries’ governments can join forces with civil society and the Church to come up with a refugee admission system that would best reflect the needs and possibilities of the refugees and the countries welcoming them. Such schemes can take successful models from abroad (e.g. the Canadian model of public and private co-financing of refugees’ arrivals) and then adapt them to their society’s specific conditions. 14 The V4 countries have to acknowledge that hosting refugees is integral to a properly functioning European asylum system.
A complex EU migration policy should also address the management of legal economic migration, in order to discourage these migrants from using irregular avenues and misusing asylum procedures. The V4 should support initiatives that would simplify the various work and studies permits the current system requires migrants to attain, and this should include a reform of the dysfunctional “blue card” system currently in place to entice the migration of highly-qualified workers to the EU. 15 The simplification of legal economic migration is a precondition for the enhancement of the EU’s competitiveness as a whole, as it will serve as a tool allow member states to flexibly respond to their own labor markets’ requirements and demographics.
A common European solution to the migration crisis, one based on mutual understanding and political will, is possible. However it is imperative that V4 countries acknowledge that in a common European space they cannot simply maintain their current transitory role, but have to truly contribute to creation of Common European asylum system, reflecting their domestic contexts as well as the refugees’ expectations. We can and should create a common border patrol, a collective resettlement scheme, efficient management of legal migration, and a common asylum system with overarching rules and one residence permit for refugees. The tools are there, we just have to use them.
- In this article the term “migration crisis” is used to describe the 2015 arrival of over one million refugees and migrants in the EU. According to the authors, however, this crisis is more about the EU member states lacking mutual understanding and reaching an agreement. The authors are convinced that the arrival of such a number of refugees and migrants can be managed in a dignified and organized manner, provided that an agreement is reached among EU member states on common solutions and procedures. ↩
- This proposal is an initiative of the Slovak Human Rights League and the Czech Organization for Aid to Refugees. The Human Rights League was established in 2005 in Bratislava and is one of the oldest Slovak organizations providing help to refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants; while also doing advocacy work in the field of Slovak migration, asylum and integration policy (see http://www.hrl.sk/en/about-us). Organization for Aid to Refugees has been helping refugees and migrants in the Czech Republic for over two decades, while also advocating for Czech asylum, migration and integration policy (see http://www.opu.cz/en/) ↩
- Article 33 of the Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits refoulement (the forced return of refugees to their country of origin, where they run the risk of persecution). ↩
- In this article we use the term “refugee” to include persons entitled to all forms of international protection available in the EU – asylum, subsidiary protection, humanitarian asylum, etc. ↩
- Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies to the return of both refugees and other migrants. ↩
- In asylum law this phenomenon is called “refugee in orbit” – when a refugee is denied entry to any and all countries because no state has assumed responsibility under international law to accept their asylum request. One of the goals of the Dublin Regulation was to prevent such situations from happening in the EU. ↩
- In 2015, according to the UNHCR, V4 countries together hosted some 25,000 refugees, which comprises 0.125 % of the number of refugees worldwide. http://www.unhcr.org/56bcab246.html ↩
- Information from the European Commission regarding the measures adopted, which aim to address the refugee crisis; press release from 23 September 2015: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5700_en.html ↩
- Similar proposals were handed to the EU for instance by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewPDF.asp?FileID=22016&Lang=EN ↩
- European Asylum Support Office (https://easo.europa.eu/) ↩
- Robust humanitarian aid and development cooperation offered to the countries hosting the largest refugee populations should be part of the common solution. Since the authors are not experts in this field, they do not deal with the matter further in this article. ↩
- Mark Townsend, “10,000 refugee children are missing, says Europol,” The Guardian, 30 January 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/30/fears-for-missing-child-refugees. ↩
- See regularly updated data: http://missingmigrants.iom.int/mediterranean ↩
- Will Jones and Alexander Teytelboym, “Choices, preferences and priorities in a matching system for refugees,” FMReview.org, http://www.fmreview.org/destination-europe/jones-teytelboym ↩
- “Reforming the EU Blue Card as a Labour Migration Policy Tool?“: http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/index.cfm?do=groupDetail.groupDetailDoc&id=19246&no=2 ↩