Topics: Refugee crisis and EU-Turkey deal

Country: The Portuguese Republic

Background:

Last year, over one million refugees flooded into the European continent, resulting the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. As the existing refugee relocation policies couldn’t redistribute the asylum seekers within 28 EU Member States proportionally regarding the Dublin Agreement, there are a surging number of migrants crossing the West Balkan route from Greece through Serbia and Macedonia to Hungary or Croatia.

The situation worsens, as there are cross-border crimes, human trafficking and even smuggling, thereby signaling a need for the EU to further cooperate with other neighbouring countries. The EU and Turkey signed an agreement to alleviate the illegal migrant issue by exchanging every irregular migrant from one of the EU Member States and every registered asylum seeker in Turkey, making the EU to pay 6 billion euro to Turkey for financial assistance in terms of the migrant-related cooperation this year.

Issues:

The most common way of Syrian refugees crossing Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to the Greek Island is by boat. Yet, since the refugee boats are usually below the safety standard, they are likely to sink and eventually failed to land on the Greek Island due to an excessive amount of people on the boats.

Conducted by the EU’s border security agency Frontex, Portugal has been conducting a humanitarian mission with Italy, Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Malta for the Operation Triton–the voluntary mission which aims to intercept and save migrants who cross the Mediterranean.  

Even though the EU interior ministers meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed to relocate 66,000 asylum seekers over two years from Italy and Greece to all other EU countries except Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom in September last year, there are only less than one-tenth of asylum applicants were relocated from the above two frontline states.

As there are about 11,000 refugees getting stuck at the Greek makeshift camp near the Greece-Macedonian border for months under the blockade of the Macedonian authority, it sets off alarm bells on the surging number of refugees in Greece, as they couldn’t pass through non-EU countries to apply asylum claims in other EU countries.  

In addition to the urgent need of assisting Greece to relocate its refugees to other countries, the latest EU–Turkey Agreement also raises a question of whether it is necessary to strengthen EU borders with Turkey in order to avoid new routes emerging to Bulgaria and Romania.

Proposed resolutions:

  • Encourages EU Member States with the lowest number of asylum applications to make more places available for migrant relocation

Portugal has one of the lowest numbers of asylum applications, as there are only 80 applications per million inhabitants. To support the EU’s Emergency Relocation Mechanism, Portugal offers 1,642 places made available for the relocation of refugees in Europe, which is the highest among all EU Member States.

The Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has also sent letter to Austria, Greece, Italy and Sweden for offering up to 5,800 more refugees they already agreed to take as part of the EU refugee quota system.

The Portuguese Republic strongly suggests top five particular countries with the lowest number of asylum applications per million inhabitants to lead the relocation plan because the progress is well below expected–less than 5,000 asylum applicants have been relocated from Greece and Italy.

  • Suggests to provide funding for non-EU neighbouring countries to allow asylum seekers to pass through those countries for transitional purpose in order to let refugees to apply asylum in other EU Member States

In response to the latest event of a particular non-EU neighbouring country connecting to the Greek border, Portugal considers it is inappropriate for the Macedonian officials to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the refugees who attempted to cross the Macedonian border.

Standing on the humanitarian ground, Portugal suggests all EU Member States to provide a negotiable amount of funding for non-EU neighbouring countries that help the asylum seekers. Being an area of protection, the EU has established European Refugee Fund within the Common European Asylum System.

By far, the funding is only available for the EU Member States, however, given that there is an urgent need for both Member States and their neighbouring countries to cooperate for the relocation of refugees, it is suggested to give financial support to those neighbouring countries for the relocation.

  • Recommends to strengthen EU borders with Turkey in order to suppress the number of illegal migrants via the Eastern Mediterranean route

The EU’s border agency Frontex has been guarding the European air borders, sea borders and land borders for decades.

According to the official statistics, in 2015, there are around 900,000 migrants arrived in the EU via the Eastern Mediterranean route, which indicates that Frontex has to intensify its cooperation with border guards from other non-EU neighbouring countries so as to make sure asylum seekers are crossing from war-torn areas to the European continent legally.

Portugal urges all EU Member States to send skilled personnel to assist the neighbouring countries for more efficient asylum application procedures, so that the EU-Turkey deal can be executed successfully, thereby curbing the issues of cross-border human smugglers.