Another Europe is possible




28 February 2010, Europolitics New Neighbours
Although the number of refugees has risen since the 1980s (due to conflicts, abuse of power and natural disasters), the EU's reception is not outstanding and the burden of asylum affects some member states disproportionately. These are the main findings - which were already known - of a very detailed study, presented on 22 February in Brussels to the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE).
"The vast majority of the world's refugees are hosted by neighbouring countries." In 2007, more than 80% of refugees remained within their region of origin and "Europe only hosted 14% of the world's refugees or people in refugee-like situations," ie "one asylum seeker per more than 2,200 European inhabitants," states the EP study. The 200-page text examines the costs related to asylum assumed by the member states and possibilities of sharing these costs in the EU.
Coming two days before the EU Home Affairs Council, these figures reinforce the image of fortress Europe' denounced by associations for the defence of refugee rights. The study states that "the total of asylum spending reported by member states is relatively low". In 2007, however, direct spending was not more than 1/14th of the international aid target of 0.7% of gross national income as a contribution to international public aid, ie €4,160 million for the EU as a whole. "These total asylum-related costs are less than what UK citizens spent on pets and pet food in the same year," sums up the study.
Its authors also predictably note that asylum pressure varies widely in the EU. Malta, for example, has costs 1,000 times higher than Portugal. The level of costs is also related to the policy implemented. The United Kingdom spends two-thirds more per asylum request than Sweden but detention accounts for 25% of the total in the UK, compared to less than 4% in Sweden.
The study gave MEPs an opportunity to start their work on two European Commission proposals (from September 2009) meant to contribute to the creation of a European asylum system. One aims to increase the number of resettlements' in Europe of refugees currently protected by developing countries and the other seeks to initiate intra-European sharing' of refugees who have entered Malta.
Three key recommendations are made in the study. First, existing measures or those being debated are not enough. The study states that "a financial compensation mechanism, for example an expanded European Refugee Fund (ERF), could reduce some inequalities in the distribution of asylum costs". Second, only the physical relocation of asylum seekers can effectively contribute to a fairer distribution of costs among member states. The study is categorical on this point: such relocations must be voluntary, in other words the refugees must accept them, otherwise they would pave the way to additional costs (detention, designating the state responsible and state of transfer, etc). Third, for the distribution' of asylum seekers to be fair, relocation programmes must be based on common standards in reception conditions and qualification.
The study is available at
Satisfaction on resettlement
The LIBE committee is satisfied on the whole with the work of Rui Tavares (EUL-NGL, Portugal) on plans for the creation of a European refugee resettlement programme currently based in third countries. Only ten EU states have such programmes for now. The Commission has proposed to grant aid to member states that would like to set one up. The rapporteur wishes to raise the allocation to 6,000 euro per refugee the first year - then 5,000 euro the second and 4,000 euro thereafter - for the countries without a programme (compared with 4,000 euro for all countries participating in the programme, as proposed by the EU executive). The Commission says 750,000 refugees are in need.

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