BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive will outline new plans next week to share out refugees across European states as well as to speed deportations of unwanted migrants, the 28-nation bloc’s migration commissioner said on Tuesday.
Dimitris Avramopoulos told Reuters that new EU systems for processing asylum claims in Italy, Greece and possibly Hungary could involve detaining those rejected until they return home, as European governments strain to balance obligations to provide refuge with hostility among the public to mass immigration.
In an interview, Avramopoulos said the Commission would put new proposals to interior ministers at an emergency meeting on Sept. 14, five days after Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to outline plans to the European Parliament during his annual state of the Union address on Wednesday.
That timetable represents an acceleration in response to a surge in arrivals over the summer while member states argued over how to spread the load. Avramopoulos said his discussions with governments gave him hope they would drop objections to a distribution system for asylum-seekers that Juncker put forward in May and would next week present as a permanent EU mechanism.
“The majority of countries ... want to contribute,” he said.
“Some countries that were a bit reluctant ... have changed their mind because now they realize that this problem is not the problem of other countries but theirs as well.”
While the Commission was ready to expand on earlier outline plans to deal with the crisis, however, Avramopoulos insisted there would be no change to the Schengen code which has removed border checks on much of the bloc’s internal frontiers - despite calls for changes to prevent migrants exploiting that openness.
A Commission pilot scheme proposes to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU states and take in 20,000 refugees from abroad. Once that is successfully in place, Avramopoulos said, a permanent system would be implemented.
In June, EU governments rejected binding quotas for taking people in but have failed to muster voluntary offers to reach a target which the Commission and many leaders say is far too low.
“The flows are increasing,” Avramopoulos said. “So the question is shall we respond in a responsible way to the proposal made by the Commission? If this scheme proves workable then we will have a permanent system in the future.”
Praising Germany for taking a lead in accepting Syrians it could otherwise send back to the states where they first entered the EU, Avramopoulos said: “Some governments ... must stop being deluded that they will ... give ground to populist movements if they make concessions on our policy. No, we must be bold.”
Along with proposals to provide safer, legal ways to bring in more people who need refuge or can contribute to the European economy, the Commission will offer EU governments new proposals on speeding up the removal of those whose asylum claims fail.
That could help deter people from risking the journey, and the United Nations says it would free up capacity to help those in greater need.
But Avramopoulos also stressed that such measures could counter public disquiet about the crisis. “This is essential for the trust of our citizens in our migration system,” he said.
Less than half of failed asylum-seekers - typically from poor but fairly stable states who come to Europe seeking work - are actually deported, the former Greek foreign minister said.
Many others simply arrive and evade official checks. “The system can’t work,” he said. But now EU “hotspots” in Italy, Greece and maybe Hungary would speed the processing of asylum claims and enforce EU rules: “The ones in need of international protection will have it,” he said. “But the others, who are not in need of protection, they will be returned.”
The Commission is preparing a list of “safe” countries whose citizens’ asylum claims will be “fast-tracked” toward rejection.
Some of those facing expulsion could, he said, benefit from “assisted voluntary return programs”. Some agencies recommend offering financial and other support to those being sent home.
For those who do not cooperate, however, Avramopoulos said the Commission’s strategy would include “stronger enforcement” of EU rules “including where necessary the use of detention”.
He rejected calls for change to the Schengen code because of problems on the bloc’s external frontiers and said such talk underlined how the crisis was a test for the EU’s leadership and of EU institutions’ ability to forge a collective approach.
“It’s not Schengen that’s the problem,” he said, calling open borders one of the EU’s main achievements and recalling how his passport had filled with stamps in the 1970s after just a month traveling around Europe on a youth rail pass.
”This crisis ... is a crash test for the European institutions in their relations with member states. We must not, through this crisis, follow the road of re-nationalization.
“Because this might be the beginning of the end of all these achievements that we have all made over the last 50 years.”
Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Mark Heinrich