UNHCR urges European States to increase pledges, pace and expand relocation of asylum-seekers
One year ago, the European Union (EU) and Member States agreed on a two-year plan to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers mainly from Greece and Italy to other European countries. Yet, the number of pledges continues to be woefully inadequate and implementation unnecessarily slow and challenging. So far, 4,776 asylum-seekers have been relocated from Greece and Italy, only 3% of the original target. UNHCR is calling on States to increase pledges, including for unaccompanied and separated children, speed up the registration and transfers of candidates, and for more nationalities fleeing war and persecution to have access to the scheme.
States have been slow in providing pledges despite agreeing to the plan. In some instances, while States have indicated the places made available, these same places have not been formally pledged to Greece and Italy. This is exacerbating the difficulties for asylum-seekers who can and should benefit from the scheme. Effective relocation is key to increasing solidarity and responsibility sharing in Europe, and ensuring the better management of movements, including helping to address irregular secondary movement and reliance on smuggler networks. This is particularly vital given the humanitarian situation in Greece, and the increasing number of people staying in Italy and applying for asylum.
From Greece, a total of 3,712 asylum-seekers have departed the country thus far and 7,970 people have been referred for relocation. So far, there are 8,676 pledges available for relocation from 21 EU Member States, as well as Switzerland and Liechtenstein, representing only 13% of the target of 66,400 places. The pre-registration exercise which took place in mainland Greece has helped to obtain further estimates of people who might be eligible for relocation. Based on nationalities of those pre-registered there are around 19,000 persons who could be eligible for relocation in mainland Greece. UNHCR encourages the Greek Asylum Service to further speed up the registration of candidates for relocation. UNHCR continues to support relocation candidates through the provision of accommodation. 12,290 relocation candidates and other asylum-seekers have been accommodated in small temporary apartments, hotels at special rates and host families so far, with the support of the European Commission. Many more men, women and children who are eligible for relocation still live in sites with poor conditions and security, which are inadequate for the coming winter. Speedier relocation would mitigate their fear and uncertainty about their future.
From Italy, 1,064 asylum-seekers have been relocated to 16 countries with 2,809 pledges made available to date. More people are staying in Italy than in previous years, including due to increased border controls in the northern areas. For example, the number of first time asylum applications in Italy has increased by 53% (72,470) this year compared to the same period in 2015 (47,428). This has impacted on the capacity of its reception and asylum systems, and requires a strong gesture of solidarity from other Member States.
Participating States also need to accelerate the processing and transfer of relocation candidates. States need to work in partnership with the Greek and Italian authorities and relevant agencies to increase the personnel and infrastructure made available, and to speed up the registration and processing of cases.
UNHCR also calls upon the EU and Member States to revisit the eligibility criteria by lowering the threshold for relocation candidates to include additional nationalities likely in need of protection. Currently, only asylum-seekers of nationalities with an average recognition rate of 75% or higher at the EU level are eligible for relocation. Based on the latest available EU data, this threshold excludes, for example, Iraqis, who previously met the threshold, as their average recognition rate has fallen to 73%.
The obstacles to implementing the relocation scheme now need to be overcome. In addition, parallel efforts must be undertaken in integrating those refugees not eligible for relocation. UNHCR continues to support participating States, the Commission and EU Agencies towards fully implementing the scheme. It is imperative that our collective efforts begin to deliver significantly on the commitments made one year ago for the benefit of people in need of international protection.
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