Solid EU migration, asylum policy
The refugee crisis in 2015 and early 2016 posed an unprecedented challenge for Europe. A strong, common and coordinated response by the European Union was needed: a comprehensive response aimed at putting an end to uncontrolled migration flows while protecting the rights of migrants and refugees in full compliance with EU and international law and making sure that no member state was left alone to shoulder the migratory pressure.
This objective has been precisely the essence of the European Agenda on Migration since the very beginning: to offer protection to those in need, to save lives at sea, to strengthen and better manage our external borders, to fight the root causes of irregular migration while improving the returns of those who have no right to stay and to enhance legal channels for people to come to Europe in an orderly and safe way.
Sharing responsibility and showing solidarity have been the silver threads of our common European migration and asylum policy: between member states and towards our neighbouring partner countries, as well astowards migrants and asylum seekers themselves.
Within the EU, this responsibility and solidarity have, for example, been demonstrated through the relocation schemes, whereby more than 14,000 persons in need of international protection have been relocated so far from Italy and Greece to other member states. In parallel, the European Commission has proposed solutions for the medium and long term through an overhaul of the Common European Asylum System, including a revision of the Dublin Regulation, which establishes the member state responsible for the examination of an asylum application.
This responsibility and solidarity cannot, however, stop at the borders of the EU. Managing migration is a global challenge and requires a global response. This is why it is essential for the EU to strengthen its partnerships with key third countries.
We have done so with Turkey through the EU-Turkey Statement, through close coordination and cooperation with the Western Balkans, and we are strengthening our partnerships with countries in northern and sub-Saharan Africa.
The EU has built a solid migration framework.
Now is the moment to sustain this progress, in particular operationally on the ground.
This is why today, Thursday, we are on behalf of the European Commission and the Maltese presidency of the Council of the EU visiting the island of Lesvos, one of the Greek islands which is at the very forefront of the refugee crisis.
In Greece, the EU is helping the Greek authorities to manage the difficult situation on the Aegean islands and to improve reception conditions for migrants while speeding up the asylum procedures. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency currently deploy over 1,000 officers in Greece – the biggest EU operation carried out in the history of both agencies.
Overall, the European Commission has made available over €1 billion in financial support to manage the migration situation in Greece.
However, greater efforts are still needed from member states to address the difficult situation on the islands in Greece. In particular, member states need to honour their commitments on the relocation of those in urgent need of protection, ramp up their efforts on resettlement from Turkey and ensure the deployment of a sufficient number of asylum experts in Greece to speed up the processing on the ground.
We can only have a solid European migration and asylum policy if solidarity and responsibility sharing are inherent and sustained in all aspects of our comprehensive approach.
With spring on the way, now is the moment to continue delivering on our European promises and commitments.
Dimitris Avramopoulos is European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, and Carmelo Abela is Minister for Home Affairs.