This article has been published by Sbilanciamoci.info within the dossier ‘The specials of Sbilanciamoci‘: a series of analysis on the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Specifically, this article is part of the thematic section on Fortress Europe.
“Relocation”, a missed goal
It should represent “a firm commitment to solidarity between the Member States”, but in numbers and in fact the European program of relocation has so far been a real failure.
4440: this is the number of people involved from Italy in the European relocation program. 9953 those transferred to other countries from Greece . All are asylum seekers: they are indeed the recipients of the program planned in the European Agenda on migration, presented by the European Commission on 13 May 2015 and adopted by the European Council in September 2015. Or at least they would be: the defined measure of “exceptional relocation” that Europe has figured as an answer to the migration issue it is not even remotely close to the expected objective. According to the agreement, by 26 September 2017 160,000 people should be transferred to Italy and Greece to other European countries. At 16 of March 2017, the relocation involved only 14,438 migrants: less than 10% of the agreed number.
The relocation program is, in the words with which it was presented, “a firm commitment to solidarity between the Member States” which, in front of “the terrible loss of life in the Mediterranean”, changes “words into action” . The program, created at the urging of the European Council in the meeting of April 23, 2015, decided to “strengthen internal solidarity and responsibility, [..] to increase emergency aid to Member States in the forefront and to consider options for the organization of an emergency relocation of all Member States on a voluntary basis “.
In other words, in order to ease the pressure of the inflows towards Italy and Greece – affected for geographical reasons by the arrivals – the program proposes the transfer of persons from these two countries to other European states.
But how it should work the process of relocation?
Not all asylum seekers can join the relocation program. And not all European countries are involved in the same way. Just the persons coming from a country for which the rate of recognition of protection is equal to – or greater than- 75%, according to Eurostat data for the last quarter, can participate: until now, Eritreans, Syrians and Iraqis. After having expressed the intent to join the program, people, photo-identified and reported, formalize the claim of protection in Italy or Greece and they are then transferred to a member state: the application for protection is examined in the country of relocation. The states receive 6000 euros for each person received, while Italy and Greece receive 500 euros for each relocation, for the costs of transport. The whole procedure should take place within two months since the countries announce the availability of places, that they are supposed to indicate following various indicators, such as GDP, unemployment rate, the number of protections already granted in the previous four years, resident population .
Paradoxes and problems of the relocation plan
This, in theory, recognizing on one hand the large number of people arriving in Italy and Greece, and on the other the distortions of the Dublin Regulation (l. 604/2013), for which the country that has the respinsability of examining the applications for asylum is the first of entrance. Here you can see a first paradox: while the European countries formally commit themselves to welcome new asylum seekers, others are forcibly sent to the European country of first entrance, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation.
This isn’t the only contradiction present, as demonstrated by the fact that even if the relocation was working at full capacity, would have a ridiculous impact compared to arrivals, that are much more respect to the numbers programmed in the European plan – and that, anyway, aren’t still achieved.
The distance of the European plane from the real situation is visible not only in numbers but also in the criterias: the fact of selecting people on nationality, with reference to Eurostat datas, doesn’t take evidently in account the actual composition of the current migratory flows towards Europe, much more heterogeneous than what is provided by the European program.
Finally, it should be remembered that the relocation program is part of a European immigration approach characterized by exclusion and closure, expressed in the points that, in addition to relocation, make up the Agenda: forced repatriations, agreements with countries of origin (although with dictators governments, is the case, for example, of Sudan) to contain the flows, control of the borders, hotspot centers for immediate identification and distinction between those who can ask protection -according to European parameters – and those who must be repatriated . If the goal of the Agenda should be, in the words with which it was accompanied, “the duty to protect those in need”, what has been put in place outlines a different intention: control and refoulement. In this context, the relocation program does not work.
A common commitment with a solidaristic approach: a missed opportunity
Even with these limits, the program could still be a chance for some of the asylum seekers stranded in the country of first entry, as well as a step forward the creation of a genuine common European asylum system. A possibility threatened by the limited availability of the member countries, which has led the Commission to threaten sanctions. As recently expressed by the Commission, “so far, only two Member States (Malta and Finland) are on track to meet their obligations. Some states continue refusing to participate, and others are doing very little”. Against 160,000 expected, only 26,790 seats in total are now available from 25 member countries, and only 14,438 the persons actually transferred. Austria and Hungary have not given any availability, although the Commission has “suggested” an availability of 1,953 seats and 1,294 respectively. Sweden has communicate the possibility for the accommodation of 50 people, against 3,727 identified by the Commission. And, even when the Commission speaks about countries “on track to fulfill the obligations”, actually omit the initial data, for example how many people the different states have pledged to accommodate. Malta gave availability for 104 seats, and on March 14 it welcomed 46 people from Italy and 65 from Greece; and Finland for 1820 – 1014 proposed by the Commission – accepting 504 asylum seekers from Italy and 560 from Greece. Luxembourg, which gave a 270 seats availability, welcomed today 61 people from Italy and 165 from Greece. Belgium, out of a total of 630 seats -against the number of 3320 suggested by the Commission- has welcomed 121 people from Italy and 371 from Greece . Datas speak for themselves and show the absence of the “spirit of solidarity between member countries” which should be the basis of the relocation program – and of the entire European Union – and instead finds it hard to realize.
People as packs.
There’s, finally, a point that often takes a back seat, and instead it’s central: the will of the people involved. Those who join the program may indicate any preferences, perhaps related to the knowledge of the language or the presence of relatives. But in fact people are forced to join without any information: so they wait in the “reception” centers, until the officials say them, without any warning, where they will be sent. There is of course the option to decline, which, however, follows a further stay in the facilities, waiting to be able, perhaps, to go into the country indicated. Meanwhile they wait, without any communication, even for two years, as we were told by some Eritreans living in the big centre in Castelnuovo di Porto, in Rome, during a visit.
While the will of the individuals is not taken into account, we can’t say the same about the will of the states: beyond the claims, it is clear that the goal of Europe is not the reception, but the control and the refoulement. At the showdown, the real actions implemented go in this direction. The ridiculous numbers of relocation are part of this picture.