EU Commission to unveil asylum options as deportations stall

Options for reforming asylum in the EU are to be unveiled two days after Greece began to expel migrants to Turkey under a controversial deal between Brussels and Ankara

EU Commission to unveil asylum options as deportations stall

World Bulletin / News Desk

The European Union's executive was to sketch plans Wednesday for overhauling the EU's asylum system in the next phase of its troubled bid to stem Europe's migration crisis.

Options for reforming asylum in the 28-nation bloc were to be unveiled two days after Greece began to expel refugees to Turkey under a controversial deal between Brussels and Ankara.

But deportations have stalled and may not resume before Friday.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, will turn the spotlight on Europe's handling of its worst migration crisis since World War II with a visit next week to Lesbos -- part of the Greek island chain where hundreds of thousands of poor and desperate people arrived last year.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is to put forward options for reforming asylum rules criticised as obsolete and unfair to frontline countries like Greece.

At present, under the so-called Dublin Rules, refugees seeking asylum must lodge their application in the country where they first arrived, and should be returned there if they move on to somewhere else.

But -- as 2015 showed -- the rules fell apart when Greece, one of the poorest EU members, was overwhelmed by refugees who wanted asylum in Germany and other wealthy northern EU countries.

"Two options will be presented," an EU diplomat told AFP.

In the face of new refugee surges in the future, the diplomat said, one would be to "perpetuate the emergency mechanism" to redistribute refugees within the bloc from frontline Mediterranean countries.

A majority of countries support it, the diplomat said.

However, EU states have struggled to implement an emergency scheme agreed last September to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers out of Greece and Italy. Only 1,100 of these have been resettled so far.

The delays have been pinned on a range of factors, from governments trying to filter out jihadists from among the refugees following the terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, to lack of housing and education -- but, say sceptics, political foot-dragging has also played a part.

The second less popular option, supported mainly by Germany and Sweden, would set in place "a permanent relocation mechanism" that may involve quotas that have fiercely been rejected by member states, the diplomat said.

In Greece, meanwhile, European and Greek officials were seeking to organise the next wave of refugee deportations to Turkey from the Greek islands.

But a Turkish official said the next transfer "has been postponed to Friday" at Greece's request.

A first batch of 202 was sent back on Monday.

But further operations have stalled. Thousands of refugees have filed last-minute requests for asylum and hundreds have fled a camp where a brawl broke out last Friday between rival groups.

The EU and Turkey struck a deal last month under which all "irregular refugees" arriving in Greece after March 20 face being sent back.

Each case must be examined individually, and an asylum request therefore delays the process.

Under a "one-for-one" deal with Turkey, for every Syrian returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled in an EU country, with numbers capped at 72,000.

- Rights criticism -

Human-rights watchdogs say the scheme is badly flawed, and on Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was concerned for 13 people who may have been unable to register for asylum before they were deported.

The EU-Turkey deal, in its early days, has sharply reduced the number of new arrivals, and Germany says it could lift its controls on the border with Austria if the trend continues.

"We would not extend the border controls beyond May 12 if the numbers remain this low," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Tuesday.

The pope, accompanied by the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, will visit Lesbos on April 14 or 15, a government source in Athens said.

Last Mod: 06 Nisan 2016, 11:59
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