by Anna Osterberg
The EU has reached a majority vote in favour of the proposed relocation plan of 120,000 refugees, with priority given to those from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea.
The plan involves relocating refugees currently residing in Italy (15,600 people), in Greece (50,400) and in Hungary (54,000) to the other EU member states over the course of two years, with distribution following a quota system based on a member state’s total GDP, its unemployment rate and its number of asylum applicants. The member states will receive 6,000€ of EU aid per refugee to support the integration of these persons.
These 120,000 are only a portion of the 500,000 refugees who have entered Europe since January, with this number expected to rise to 800,000 by the end of the year. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere stated today that this deal is “an important building block, but no more than that,” urging comprehensive solutions to the crisis both within and outside of European borders.
Since the events of 2011’s Arab Spring protests, long-reigning dictator Bashar al-Assad’s violent regime in Syria has left 250,000 dead, 7.6 million displaced within the borders of Syria, and 4 million fleeing the country. 1.6 million of these refugees now live in Turkey, 1 million live in both Lebanon and Jordan, and hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Egypt.
These account for 95% of Syrian refugees, most of whom presently reside in severely underfunded UN refugee camps due to the fact that many of these respective countries are forbidding the refugees employment regardless of education or experience. This legal limbo has left families with no choice but to turn to Europe, paying smugglers thousands of euros for passage by boat to Malta, southern Italy, or Greece’s southern islands, where many then migrate north. Thousands of men, women and children have lost their lives this year attempting to make this journey, “primarily because they have no other choice,” according to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.
Those seeking asylum are lawfully entitled to certain obligatory rights since the 1951 Refugee Commission , including the rights not to be penalized for entering a country illegally, not to be returned to their country of origin, security, religious expression, primary education, etc. However, some governments within Europe have been reluctant to uphold these laws and have been making it difficult for refugees to enter Europe, encouraging the refugees to resort to incredibly dangerous smuggling boats. Some countries such as Hungary have reacted violently, , criminalizing illegal entry, building a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia, and tear-gassing refugees attempting to pass through. This echoes sentiments expressed by the Hungarian president János Áder to bar Muslims from entering Europe in order to “keep Europe Christian,” which, xenophobic implications aside, is in violation of the international laws requiring countries to protect and house refugees regardless of religious beliefs. Angela Merkel, amid rising tensions, has reminded EU partners that “they signed up to such human rights standards by joining the EU.”
The deal voted upon on Tuesday afternoon was concluded with a majority of 24 to 28, with Czech, Romania and Hungary against, and Finland abstaining. Ireland, the UK and Denmark had options to opt-out, with the UK being the only one to do so, opting instead to implement their own relocation program, and Ireland and Denmark agreeing to accept 2,900 and 1,000 refugees respectively. Germany and France will take in the largest numbers by far, with Germany agreeing to accept 40,000 refugees and France accepting just over 30,000 by the end of the two year period, despite domestic opposition within both countries.
Doubts plague the plausibility of the plan’s potential effectiveness. It follows in the wake of a failed quota system written by the EU in May of this year, which involved the relocation of only 40,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary, a third of the number agreed upon on Tuesday. A few EU leaders have already publicly voiced disapproval with the mandatory nature of the quota system. Slovak PM Robert Fico has stated that he will refuse to implement the proposals, and the president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zemon, has denounced the deal as a “mistake,” threatening to appeal the decision in the European Court of Justice. The plan will be discussed and ratified alongside further debate on the EU’s next steps at an emergency summit on the crisis being held today in Brussels.
Featured image credit: Matt May, Flickr CC. License can be found here.