Migration management is a shared responsibility, not only among EU Member States, but also vis-à-vis non-EU countries of transit and origin of migrants. By combining both internal and external policies, the European Agenda on Migration 48 continues to provide a comprehensive approach grounded in mutual trust and solidarity among EU Member States and institutions. 49 The Agenda set out four levels of action for an EU migration policy, which respects the right to seek asylum, responds to the humanitarian challenge, provides a clear European framework for a common migration policy, and stands the test of time.50 Overall, relevant developments in the course of 2018 reflected an orchestrated effort to transition from ad hoc responses to durable, future-proof solutions in the area of asylum. While the Commission has identified a number of immediate measures to address pressing issues along the Western, Central, and Eastern Mediterranean routes, including providing assistance to Morocco, improving conditions for migrants in Libya with an emphasis on the most vulnerable, and further optimising operational workflows on the Greek islands 51, long-term structural measures are also being developed.
The hotspot approach remained a key element in the broad range of measures taken in the face of the migration challenges in the Mediterranean. In the frames of this approach, EASO, Frontex, Europol, and Eurojust, work together with national authorities of frontline Member States to assist in screening, identification, fingerprinting, registration, information, debriefing and channelling of migrants to the follow-up procedures.
In Greece, in the face of continuous migratory pressure and the low number of returns, the hotspot approach has played a key role in stabilising the situation on the islands. In its Communication to the European Parliament, the European Council, and the Council, of 4 December 2018, 52 the Commission underlined that during 2018, action focused on improving living conditions in the hotspots - with better infrastructure, and qualified personnel for medical and psycho-social services- and an emphasis on catering to the needs of vulnerable groups. These efforts were complemented by an increase in the reception capacity in the mainland and by new legislation on a national guardianship system for minors. In 2018, the Commission and EU+ countries continued to provide their support to the Greek authorities in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, focusing both on overall migration management and the reception conditions in Greece, assisting in alleviating the situation on the islands. 53 From its side, UNHCR has expressed concerns 54 about overcrowding in the hotspots on Greek islands and the substandard living conditions there. This challenge has also been identified by the Commission, 55 which noted, among others, that in the Greek island of Lesvos authorities have used tents both inside and outside the hotspot area to accommodate additional arrivals. Overcrowding - related also to the increased number of arrivals through the land border - has led to heavy pressure on infrastructure, medical service, and waste management, while tensions between migrants and parts of the population have increased. To address these needs, the Commission has identified additional action to be taken, including further improvement of infrastructure and overall reception conditions in the hotspots (for instance, extra funds allocated for improving waste and water management and the provision of services and non-food items); 56 expediting the processing of applications for protection at both first and second instance to reduce backlog; and increasing effectiveness in returns. 57
In Italy, throughout 2018, the EU agencies continued to provide their support for the implementation of the hotspot approach, adopting their staffing levels in accordance with existing needs. Apart from financial assistance, and deployment of experts to help in screening, registration, identification and provision of information to migrants, EU contribution toward the implementation of the hotspot approach in Italy in 2018 included, among others, the performing of secondary screening, the provision of medical assistance and intercultural mediation.58 In addition, authorities embarked on an initiative to revise standard operating procedures in hotspots. In September 2018, Trapani ceased to function as a hotspot, while the planned opening of three additional hotspots in Crotone, Corigliano Calabro and Reggio Calabria has been suspended due to a decrease in arrivals. It is foreseen that, in the event of an increase in migratory flows, the centre in Reggio Calabria will start operating as a hotspot. Over the course of 2018, overcrowding and insufficient material capacity have been the focus of concerns raised by EU institutions 59 60, UNHCR61 , and civil society alike.62
In March 2016, EU Heads of State or Government and Turkey agreed on the EU-Turkey Statement 63 with a three-fold aim: a) to end irregular migration flows from Turkey to the EU; b) to enhance reception conditions for refugees in Turkey; and c) to offer safe and legal paths for Syrian refugees from Turkey to the EU. To achieve these ends, the Statement included, inter alia, an agreement that all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands, as from 20 March 2016, would be returned to Turkey, and a resettlement scheme would be implemented. According to this scheme, for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands another Syrian would be resettled from Turkey to the EU taking into account the UN Vulnerability Criteria.64
In March 2019, three years after the conclusion of the agreement, the Commission published a report with information on the cumulative results of its three years of implementation. 65 Remarkably, irregular arrivals from Turkey to the Greek islands remain 97 % lower than the period before the Statement became operational, while the loss of human lives at sea decreased drastically. At the same time, over the course of 2018, there has been a significant increase in the irregular crossings from Turkey to Greece through the land border, with approximately half of the individuals crossing the border being Turkish nationals.66 This indicates a need to intensify support at the border. Turkey, in its part, has stepped up measures to disrupt migrant smuggling networks and has cooperated closely in the areas of resettlement and return. As of the publication of the report in March 2019, 20 292 Syrian refugees had been resettled from Turkey to EU+ countries, while a total of EUR 192 million of AMIF funds has been allocated to support legal admission of Syrians from Turkey. In addition, for the years 2016-2019, a total of EUR 6 billion has been channelled through the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, with half of it coming from EU funds and the other half coming from individual national contributions of EU+ countries. These funds are used for the implementation of projects aimed at catering to the needs of refugees and host communities in Turkey with a focus on humanitarian assistance, education, health, municipal infrastructure and socio-economic support. 67 In conjunction with these steps forward, areas in which more progress is needed were also identified, especially in regards to the implementation of returns to Turkey from the Greek islands. This is the combined result of accumulated backlog in the processing at second-instance of the asylum applications submitted on the Greek islands and of the insufficient pre-return processes. During the three years in which the Statement is operational, only 2 441 migrants have been returned to Turkey and another 3 421 have returned voluntarily from the Greek islands through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme. 68
The disembarkation of migrants and refugees rescued at sea in the Mediterranean became an issue of debate in 2018 69, underlining the need for the development of a more systematic and coordinated EU approach on disembarkation.70 71 In January 2019, the need to find a solution in the rescue of the vessel Sea Watch 3, instigated a first practical effort of coordination between the European Commission, a number of Member States, and relevant agencies. This practical experience stood as a testament to a willingness to work toward a more effective, systematic EU framework for cooperation in the areas of disembarkation, first reception, registration and relocation. 72 This may take the form of temporary arrangements, which could serve as a bridge solution until the new Dublin Regulation becomes applicable. 73 Temporary arrangements could be developed in a transparent step-by-step work plan, based on a mutual understanding of shared interests, which would ensure the delivery of operational and effective assistance from the Commission, EU agencies, and other Member States to the Member State concerned.74 The core elements of these temporary arrangements could include: 75
a request by a Member State, which has found itself under pressure or in need of immediate assistance regarding disembarkation after a search and rescue operation.
identification of specific solidarity measures by other Member States, in response to the request. Solidarity measures provided by other Member States need to be balanced by responsibility measures taken by the Member State receiving the support indicating that it has taken the appropriate steps for the management of arrivals.
putting in place a coordination mechanism for following up on such requests, involving key stakeholders, such as the Commission and relevant EU agencies.
EU agencies are prepared and well equipped to provide their assistance in the process.
financial support will be made available from the EU budget for Member States volunteering to relocate migrants, for return operations, and for the Member State under pressure.
In a policy paper, published in January 2019, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), welcomed this window of opportunity to create a mechanism that guarantees predictability and certainty, as a ‘ship-by-ship’ approach may lead to amplified suffering, political exploitation and mediatisation of incidents, extra administrative burden and costs, and reputational damage to the EU’s credibility. In addition, ECRE raised issues of concern, like the peril that ad hoc solutions may undermine legal certainty, and offers a set of recommendations toward a fair and clear relocation mechanism to share responsibility for persons disembarked on EU ports. 76
In March 2019, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in an open letter to the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, presented their critical concerns on the question of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, acknowledged the need for a systematic, humane, and predictable rescue and disembarkation system, and offered an Action Plan, comprising 20 steps to be taken to this end. 77 At a more general level, the importance of establishing permanent mechanisms in anticipating emergencies, exchanging information, coordinating responses, and managing available resources was also highlighted in a report published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe in June 2018. The report drew on interviews with a broad range of senior officials involved in EU and national responses to the migration crisis and examined a range of elements of crisis response, including information collection and sharing, coordination, leadership and resourcing.78 Similarly, in June 2018, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) published a Policy Insight calling for the establishment of an intra-EU institutional framework covering both asylum and SAR operations.79 Finally, the 2018 Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration Report elaborates on the notion of ‘flexible solidarity’ to provide guidance on how EU Member States may effectively share responsibility for interconnected policies in the area of asylum and present possible responses to challenges posed by irregular migration in the Mediterranean.80
In the EU context, resettlement refers to the process whereby, on a request from UNHCR based on a person’s need for international protection, third-country nationals are transferred from a third-country national or stateless person from a third country to an EU+ country, where they are permitted to reside either with a refugee status or subsidiary protection status in the meaning of Directive 2011/95/EU (recast Qualification Directive), or with a status that offers the same benefits as refugee status under national and EU law. It is a means to offer a safe and legal path to EU+ for people in need of international protection, while easing the pressure on countries that host large numbers of refugees. The European Resettlement Scheme was launched on 20 July 2015.81 In the years 2015-2017, through the different EU resettlement programs, a total of 27 800 persons were resettled in Europe,82 while under the new EU Resettlement Scheme, 20 83 EU Member States have pledged more than 50 000 resettlement places to be implemented by the end of October 2019, making this initiative the largest resettlement effort the EU has undertaken to date.84 As of March 2019, over 24 000 of these resettlements have materialised. 85 In 2018, the EU also worked closely with Member States and with the UNHCR to ensure that many vulnerable people are evacuated from Libya to Niger and then resettled to Europe, through an Emergency Transit Mechanism. Almost 2 500 people were evacuated and more than 1 200 of these people have now been resettled.86 This ongoing resettlement initiative stands as a testament to the EU’s ability to deliver protection for those in need in cooperation with key stakeholders, the UNHCR and Nigerien authorities. Another priority area is the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey, 87 which continues at a steady pace. Since March 2016, over 20 292 Syrian refugees have been resettled from Turkey to EU Member States.88 The adoption of the Union Resettlement Framework Regulation replacing existing ad hoc resettlement schemes in the EU framework will systematise and offer predictability in resettlement efforts.
In June 2018, the European Policy Centre published a discussion paper, offering a review of developments on the EU Resettlement Framework and calling for maintaining the strong humanitarian nature of resettlement efforts over an approach that could potentially turn resettlement into a migration management instrument. 89
National resettlement programs are used to implement EU resettlement schemes and may also make available additional resettlement places. For instance, in 2018, Norway’s resettlement programme included 2 120 persons from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Syrians from Lebanon, and refugees of various nationalities evacuated from Libya. In Sweden, the national resettlement programme comprised 5 000 places; accordingly, in the course of 2018, a total of 5 003 persons were transferred to Sweden. In the UK, resettlement programmes comprise four schemes: Gateway, Mandate, the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS). In total, 5 994 people were provided protection through these four resettlement schemes, in 2018.90 Another example is the Irish Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme 2 (IHAP). The first call for applications under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme 2 (IHAP) opened on 14 May 2018. The Programme provides for up to 530 eligible family members (‘beneficiaries’) of Irish citizens, persons with Convention refugee or subsidiary protection status and persons with programme refugee status (the ‘proposer’), to be admitted to Ireland over two years. Eligible for participation in this scheme are nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea and Burundi. The French President made a commitment to receive 10 000 refugees from 2017 to 2019 as part of the resettlement operations with UNHCR, including 3 000 from Chad and Niger and 7 000 from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Between 1 December 2017, the start date of the commitment, and 31 December 2018, 5 403 resettled people arrived effectively in France (including 851 from Niger and Chad, and 4 323 from Turkey and Lebanon), representing 54 % of the President’s commitment at the halfway point in the reporting period. 5 157 resettled refugees arrived in 2018.
The term ‘humanitarian admission’ is used here to refer to different types of admission programmes for admitting third-country nationals on humanitarian grounds in exceptional circumstances. These programmes constitute dedicated channels allowing persons fulfilling certain criteria to get access to EU territory in a legal, safe, and organised manner. Apart from programmes managed by national authorities, humanitarian admission programmes also take place in partnership between authorities and civil society and community organisations. To this end, private sponsorship programmes also play a role in offering a safe and legal pathway to individuals in need of protection. For instance, in Belgium the ‘Humanitarian Corridors’ programme, led by the Community of Sant’ Egidio assisted in securing humanitarian visas for 150 Syrian refugees from Turkey and Lebanon. The program also operates in Italy since 7 November 2017, when the Ministry of External Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of Interior, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and the Waldensian Board, endorsed a renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the realisation of the Humanitarian Corridors Opening project. The project aims to facilitate the arrival into Italy, in a legal and safe way, of potential international protection recipients showing proven vulnerability conditions deriving from their personal situation, age or health conditions and considered as refugees by UNHCR. The ‘Humanitarian Corridors’ programme also operates in France. The country provides reception of Syrian and Iraqi refugees through asylum visas. Since 2012, 6 612 visas have been granted to Syrian nationals, 998 of them in 2018. Since 2014, 7 151 visas have been issued for asylum for Iraqi nationals and in 2018, 1 013 people benefitted from this agreement. Following a memorandum of understanding signed on 14 March 2017 between the French Government and five French NGOs, the country also agreed to receive 500 refugees from Lebanon. The aim of this protocol is to allow the arrival in France, on the basis of an asylum visa, of Syrian and Iraqi refugees staying in Lebanon and who are in a vulnerable situation. They will be hosted by host families in the framework of a sponsorship program. 294 people have been admitted to France under this programme since 2017, including 183 in 2018. In December 2018, France also welcomed Yazidi women and children from Iraq within the framework of a special operation, forming part of the national strategy for the integration of refugees adopted on 5 June 2018. 91 This operation is for 100 Yazidi women (alone or accompanied by their children) whose protection needs are clear and who are particularly vulnerable because of the trauma they have been through. 20 families have arrived at the end of 2018, while others will arrive during 2019. France also applies a framework agreement with UNHCR providing that around 100 cases of vulnerable refugees be submitted to the country every year for proposed resettlement. Between 1 December 2017 and 31 December 2018, 80 people arrived under this framework agreement and 19 Syrians arrived from countries where France does not carry out selection missions. In Germany, the Federal Ministry of Interior launched a pilot project in May 2019 called NesT – Neustart im Team (New Start within a Team) for a community sponsorship program for up to 500 vulnerable persons. Community sponsorship schemes also operate in the UK, as parts of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) and the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS), allowing community groups to become directly involved in supporting resettled families. Under these schemes, a suitable family is identified for each community sponsor. The sponsor undertakes the responsibility to support the resettled family since their arrival in the UK. Out of the total number persons resettled under VPRS and VCRS, in the year ending September 2018, 96 refugees were admitted through the Community Sponsorship scheme. 92 In Ireland, a community sponsorship programme - Community Sponsorship Ireland - started operating in 2018, through collaboration between the government, UNHCR, non-governmental organisations and civil society, with the first family arriving in December 2018. 93 In March 2019, the Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration announced the launch of a pilot initiative - Community Sponsorship Ireland (CSI) - for refugee families. The initiative was developed under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) in collaboration with key civil society organisations including UNHCR Ireland (the UN refugee agency), Nasc, the Irish Refugee Council, the Irish Red Cross, the Irish Refugee and Migrant Coalition and Amnesty International. 94
In October 2018, the Migration Policy Institute highlighted the valuable role private sponsorship programmes may play in providing safe and legal channels for persons in need of protection and offered a set of three recommendations to the EU toward supporting the success of emerging sponsorship programmes: a) the EU as a natural convenor and information hub for Member States, is well positioned to connect Member States with the information they need to develop sustainable sponsorship programmes; b) the EU has the potential to fill resource and funding gaps, which may inhibit the design and implementation of such programmes, by explicitly listing sponsorship programmes in AMIF funding calls; and c) the EU may promote further the idea of sponsorship programmes and work toward engaging more extensively civil society actors. 95
48 European Commission, A European Agenda on Migration, COM/2015/0240 final.
49 In September 2017 the Commission took stock of the implementation of the Agenda in its Communication on the Delivery of the European Agenda on Migration. European Commission, Delivery of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2017/0558 final.
50 European Commission, Delivery of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2017/0558 final, p. 7.
51 European Commission, The European Agenda on Migration: EU needs to sustain progress made over the past 4 years.
52 European Commission, Managing migration in all its aspects: Progress under the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0798 final.
53 European Commission, EU-Turkey Statement: Three years on.
54 UNHCR, UNHCR Greece urgently appeals to overconfidence conditions in reception centers in the Aegean islands (in Greek).
55 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
56 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
57 European Commission, Managing migration in all its aspects: Progress under the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0798 final.
58 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
59 European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS): Hotspots at EU external borders
60 FRA, Beyond the Peak: Challenges Remain, but Migration Numbers Drop.
61 UNHCR, Desperate Journeys: January – December 2018; Refugees and Migrants Arriving in Europe and at Europe's Borders.
62 AIDA, Country Report Italy, 2018 Update.
63 European Council, EU-Turkey Statement, 18 March 2016.
64 The statement also clarified that
“Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for illegal migration opening from Turkey to the EU, and will cooperate with neighbouring states as well as the EU to this effect. “
65 European Commission, EU-Turkey Statement: Three years on.
66 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
67 European Commission, EU-Turkey Statement: Three years on.
68 European Commission, EU-Turkey Statement: Three years on.
69 EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, In search of a safe harbour for the Aquarius: the troubled waters of international and EU law.
70 European Commission, Migration: Immediate measures needed.
71 This question is also discussed later in the Report, in the section Access to Procedure.
72 European Commission, Progress Report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2019/0126 final.
73 European Commission, Managing migration in all its aspects: Progress under the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0798 final.
74 European Commission, Progress Report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2019/0126 final.
75 European Commission, Progress Report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2019/0126 final.
76 ECRE, Relying on Relocation: ECRE’s proposal for a predictable and fair relocation arrangement following disembarkation.
77 HRW, Open NGO Letter to EU Member States’ Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs.
78 Migration Policy Institute (MPI), After the Storm: Learning from the EU Response to the Migration Crisis.
79 Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), We're in this boat together: time for a migration union.
80 Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Mercator Dialogue on Asylum and Migration Report
81 For more details, please see: EASO, Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union 2015, EASO; Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union 2016; EASO, Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union 2017.
82 European Commission, Reforming the Common European Asylum system: What the individual reforms would change and why we need them now. 5 Union Resettlement Framework.
83 Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
84 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
85 European Commission, Progress Report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2019/0126 final.
86 European Commission, Progress Report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2019/0126 final.
87 European Commission, Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration, COM/2018/0301 final.
88 European Commission, EU-Turkey Statement: Three years on.
89 European Policy Centre (EPC), The EU Resettlement Framework: From a humanitarian pathway to a migration management tool?
90 gov.uk, Summary of latest immigration statistics, 29 November 2018.
91 LCI (La Chaîne Info), France welcoming Yazidi woman who are victims of sexual crimes (in French).
92 gov.uk, How many people do we grant asylum or protection to?
93 Irish Refugee Council, Community Sponsorship Programme.
94 Irish Department of Justice and Equality, Minister Stanton calls on communities to sponsor a refugee family as he launches pilot Community Sponsorship Ireland initiative.
95 Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Three things the European Union can do to support provate sponshorship for refugees.