Daily Archives: May 13, 2015

UN welcomes European Union proposals for ‘visionary’ migration reforms

13 May 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency and the world body’s top envoy on international migration have applauded European Union (EU) authorities’ proposals for dealing with refugees and migrants arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean, calling for swift implementation of the reforms “for the urgent purpose of saving lives.”

In a statement issued in New York, Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration and Development welcomed the “visionary reforms” to the region’s asylum system put forward today in the European Commission’s ‘European Agenda on Migration.’

In particular, the proposed relocation and resettlement programs, based on a distribution key, promise to offer safer legal avenues to asylum seekers and to distribute responsibility for providing international protection more equitably across the EU.

“I expect that the resettlement target of 20,000 will increase over time and that the EU will continue to expand safe avenues by providing more humanitarian, labour, and family reunification visas to asylum seekers and migrants,” said Mr. Southerland in the statement.

He went on to comment the EU’s commitment to triple the resources for Operations ‘Triton’ and ‘Poseidon’ in the Mediterranean Sea so that they are at least equal in effect to ‘Mare Nostrum’. However, he said the EU needs to make search-and-rescue the top priority for this effort.

“As the EU pursues its anti-smuggling initiatives, meanwhile, I urge member States not to put any refugees or migrants in the line of fire, and to design any operation in complete conformity with international law,” said the statement.

Mr. Southerland notes that the proposals also begin to give prominence to critical issues related to migration and development, especially the vital need for migrants, refugees, and migration to be included in the post-2015 UN development agenda.

“Only by forging a sustainable, long-term strategy on migration and asylum can the European Union meet its humanitarian, economic, and external relations needs,” it said.

For his part, Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the EU proposals represent a “great breakthrough” in terms of managing refugee flows and migration.

“It is now enormously important, and vital for the urgent purpose of saving lives, that these proposals be embraced quickly and fully implemented,” he declared, adding that UNHCR stands ready to provide all further help it can to member States in making those objectives a reality.

A record 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 in smugglers’ boats and 3,500 died. Around half of these people were refugees fleeing war and persecution. So far in 2015, some 62,500 people have made the crossing, and at least 1,800 have died, according to UNHCR.

The European Commission’s proposals announced today “include strengthened measures to save lives at sea, and improved mechanisms for allowing legal entry into the EU for people fleeing war, and providing for a fair redistribution of refugees,” said Mr. Volker.

“They also contain measures to address some of the factors that are driving people into the hands of smugglers, including the desperate conditions many refugees face in countries of first-asylum and transit.”

Record levels of global displacement from wars and conflict in Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other regions of sub-Saharan Africa, coupled with insecurity in Libya and blocked land routes for mixed migration flows in other regions, have in recent years combined to fuel a sharp increase in refugees seeking to enter Europe by one of the few remaining means possible – travel by sea.

Mr. Turk said that “solidarity among EU member States in the approach is the only way that a problem of this nature can be tackled.”

In its press release, the refugee agency spelled out its position on the European Commission’s Migration Agenda on issues ranging from saving lives at sea to responding to high-volumes of arrivals, helping frontline EU Member States, addressing root causes in third countries and border management and a new legal migration policy.

Will NGO bill restrict aid efforts in South Sudan?

JUBA, 13 May 2015 (IRIN) – South Sudan’s parliament has just passed a bill regulating the activities of NGOs, but humanitarian agencies fear it is more about restricting aid workers and are warning it could have “catastrophic effects” for civilians in the war-ravaged nation.

Engulfed in an 18-month civil war that has killed some 50,000 people and displaced nearly two million from their homes, aid-dependent South Sudan last year experienced the largest single-nation humanitarian effort on Earth.

According to members of parliament, who passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday, it aims to regulate a sector that is vast and has so far operated without any specific guiding legislation.

“As a new nation we are supposed to enact laws that govern all aspects of life in this country,” said Samson Ezekial, an MP with the ruling SPLM party. “The purpose of the bill is to register the number of NGOs in the country, to regulate their activities and to coordinate the affairs.”

The NGO bill has enormous implications for the ongoing humanitarian response in South Sudan.

Of particular concern, MPs said, are alleged “briefcase” NGOs that exist on paper and raise funds but do not actually carry out operations beneficial to South Sudanese civilians.

Aid agencies, however, fear that the legislation will not be used to regulate and facilitate, but to monitor and restrict.

“The NGO bill has enormous implications for the ongoing humanitarian response in South Sudan,” said a statement from the NGO Forum, a consortium of local and international NGOs working in South Sudan.

“If the bill is implemented in a way that creates a more regressive environment, then this will have potentially catastrophic effects for the large amounts of the South Sudanese population that rely on NGOs to provide basic services and life-saving aid.”

More than half of South Sudan’s 12 million people require aid and 2.5 million are estimated to be facing severe food insecurity, according to UN figures.

“NGOs are in favour of regulation in principle – it would be much easier for NGOs to operate within a coherent and consistent regulatory environment,” the NGO Forum statement said.

“However, there are still significant concerns that certain provisions of the NGO bill will not regulate NGO operations, but rather hinder their ability to serve South Sudanese people at a time when needs are escalating due to the ongoing conflict.”

Here are the bill’s most contentious provisions:

– NGOs will be forced to employ 80 percent local staff, including at senior levels. Many groups say this will cause big problems in a country with more than 70 percent adult illiteracy.

– NGOs must register and sign individual “country agreements” with the government, a tool used in the past in Sudan as a method of control.

– Groups would have to use South Sudanese banks despite suspicions of graft in the financial sector. The bill also allows the government to impose unspecified fees.

– The bill covers not only humanitarian groups, but also civil society
organisations that work in advocacy and human rights. Many fear this clause could be used to stifle dissenting voices.

– The legislation also looks set to ban the formation of forums for international NGOs – a move that seems aimed at the NGO Forum, which has at times butted heads with the government.

More broadly, the humanitarian community is concerned that the new rules could simply be aimed at rent-seeking from NGOs and increasing bureaucracy. Earlier versions of the bill drew unfavourable comparisons to laws in Sudan, which has used registration and regulation to shut down aid groups.

“Regulation can and certainly has been grossly abused, and at this time one would hope that anything would be done to make delivery of humanitarian assistance as efficient, transparent, and economic as possible,” said one Western diplomat. “Frankly, a lot of people, they don’t have a good feeling about this.”

Relations between the humanitarian community and both the government and rebel authorities have deteriorated over the course of the civil war, which pits loyalists of President Salva Kiir against those allied with his former deputy, rebel leader Riek Machar.

Humanitarian agencies have accused South Sudanese government officials of using excessive bureaucracy as a tactic to confound efforts to reach opposition areas.

Recently, soldiers in the Unity state capital Bentiu prevented aid workers from reaching civilians in need. South Sudanese officials have also censored aid agencies from talking about potential famine and reportedly restricted the access of humanitarian groups who did speak out.

Government officials have sought to control donor funds – well over one billion dollars last year – by demanding it be deposited in a special account.

You feel you can just come and operate without the government knowing what you are doing? I don’t think this is in order.

At one point in 2014, the national government, increasingly isolated internationally, ordered all foreign workers to leave the country. The directive was rescinded almost immediately but illustrates the unpredictable environment international aid groups have to work in. It also lends a tint of malice to the NGO bill’s 80 percent clause.

“NGOs are already under mounting administrative pressure and often subject to arbitrary enforcement of rules and regulations,” said the NGO Forum.

While MPs insist they’re not interested in controlling humanitarian work, they have indicated they will look to take a more substantial role in not only oversight, but also the monitoring and direction of operations.

“You feel you can just come and operate without the government knowing what you are doing? I don’t think this is in order,” said Ezekial. “Maybe the government has a different priority than yours. You need to coordinate these programs with the government so that you don’t do different things than the government does.”

Jamal Kaikai, an MP from Lakes state, indicated that the bill could be used to improve the country’s ailing economy by forcing NGOs to bank in South Sudan, which has been hit hard by low oil prices and the high cost of the war.

“Most (NGOs) went and opened accounts in Kenya, putting their dollars there,” he explained. “Then they say (South Sudan) is not secure…. They are (helping to) destroy the economy of the country.”

They are helping to destroy the economy of the country.

Statements like these are making some aid agencies wary, particularly as the humanitarian situation deteriorates.

Still, aid agencies are hopeful that the language of the bill might be clarified to assuage their concerns before it reaches the president’s desk to be signed into law in the coming months.

“A sovereign state has the duty and the right to draft laws but it’s how it chooses to use those laws, and we have yet to understand how this law will be used,” a country director for a humanitarian agency in Juba told IRIN.

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News in Brief 13 May 2015 (AM)

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Displaced people in North Kivu. Photo: UNHCR/B. Sokol (file)

Grave violations of humanitarian law reported in DR Congo

Grave violations of international humanitarian law were committed in the DR Congo by a rebel group from Uganda, according to a new UN report.

The violations, which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, were committed in Beni territory in North Kivu province, over a three-month period at the end of 2014.

The report says at least 237 civilians were killed, including 65 women and 35 children, by the Allied Democratic Forces.

The rebels used machetes, hammers and knives to wound or execute civilians.

Efforts in place in Nepal prepared hospitals and workers for natural disaster

The earthquakes and continuing aftershocks in Nepal highlight the importance of disaster risk reduction efforts over the past decade, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The UN health agency said measures were taken to ensure key hospitals and health workers would be ready in an emergency or natural disaster.

Two recent earthquakes reportedly failed to disrupt services at Kathmandu’s largest public hospitals.

First African Green Growth Forum aims to unlock continent’s potential

The first ever meeting looking at the opportunities in Africa for boosting environmentally-friendly growth opened on Wednesday in Nairobi.

The African Regional Green Growth Forum, attended by the President of Kenya is co-organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The two-day conference will work to identify the barriers to Africa’s sustainable development, and the ways to achieve green growth to improve livelihoods.

It will focus on three key areas—new financing models for green growth, sustainable urbanization and sustainable lifestyles.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’42″

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Burundi clashes as East African leaders hol…

NNA – Burundi police battled with protesters Wednesday as East African leaders gathered for crisis talks aimed at ending weeks of deadly violence over the president’s controversial third term bid.

As regional leaders and international envoys arrived in Tanzania’s main city Dar es Salaam, hundreds of protesters gathered in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, chanting anti-government slogans. Police fired shots in the air and tear gas to disperse them.

Clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to violence in the central African state, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.

Despite intense international pressure, President Pierre Nkurunziza has repeatedly rejected international calls to end his bid for a third term.

The African Union, European Union and United States have condemned the actions of Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power for a decade.

Over 20 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls.

– Calls for election delay –

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled into neighbouring nations since then, with the UN preparing for thousands more to come.

Leaders of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) — made up of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda as well as Burundi — arrived in Tanzania Wednesday in a bid to mediate an end to the crisis, amid calls for polls to be delayed.

But Nkurunziza’s close aide Willy Nyamitwe rejected any election postponement, asking how was it that “the heads of state could challenge the candidacy of President Nkurunziza?”

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the top U.S. diplomat for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield are also expected to attend.

– ‘We will continue to protest’ –

Opposition and civil society leaders were not invited however, and have said they will continue to protest until Nkurunziza steps down.

“We need the heads of state to give a direct message to Nkurunziza, they must tell him the truth, that his people are fed up,” said Pacifique Nininahazwe, a leader of the protests, speaking from Bujumbura.

“We will continue to protest until he goes.”

Opposition groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to run for more than two terms.

But he argues that his first presidential term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

Asked to rule on the issue, the constitutional court found in his favour but not before one of the judges fled the country claiming its members were subject to death threats.

Former Burundi president Domitien Ndayizeye, a candidate in the presidential polls on June 26, said east Africa’s leaders had “no other choice” than to tell Nkurunziza not to run, or else “betray” the Arusha Agreement to which they are signatories — the deal which brought peace to Burundi after years of civil war.

“How could they go against the Arusha Agreement that they themselves have backed?” Ndayizeye said.

Diplomatic sources suggested that regional leaders — some of whom have themselves been in power for decades — would be unlikely to make any major decision against Nkurunziza, but analysts said the pressure was intense.

“I don’t see anyone who will come out in support of him,” said Thierry Vircoulon from the International Crisis Group.

“Everybody is very worried about the refugee crisis.” —AFP

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Questions and answers on the European Agenda on Migration

What is the aim of the European Agenda on Migration?

Migration has been one of the political priorities of this Commission from the very outset. The main objective of this European Agenda on Migration is to approach the issue of migration in a comprehensive way. Migration has become an increasingly complex phenomenon which cannot be addressed through a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, this Commission wants to break down silos and mainstream migration into all its policy areas, both internal and external.

The first part of the European Agenda on Migration defines immediate measures to prevent human tragedies and to reinforce mechanisms to deal with emergencies. This will be done by strengthening our presence at sea to save lives, targeting criminal smuggling networks, responding to high volumes of arrivals within the EU with a distribution mechanism for asylum-seekers (relocation), bringing an increased number of refugees from third countries (resettlement) safely and legally to the EU, and using the EU’s operational and financial tools to help frontline Member States.

The tool box which is being designed to respond to the immediate challenges in the Mediterranean will also stay in place to help Member States manage any future significant migratory pressures, wherever on our shared borders this may arise.

While the migration crisis in the Mediterranean has put the spotlight on immediate needs, it has also revealed much about the structural limitations of EU migration policy and the tools at its disposal. This is an opportunity for the EU to strike the right balance in its migration policy and send a clear message to citizens that migration can be better managed collectively by all EU actors. This is why the European Agenda on Migration also defines a new strategic approach to manage better migration in the medium to long term, building on four pillars: 1) reducing the incentives for irregular migration; 2) saving lives and securing the external borders; 3) a strong common asylum policy; 4) a new policy on legal migration.

How does the Agenda intend to strengthen presence at sea to save lives?

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for an amending budget. This will allow us to triple the budget for the Frontex joint-operations Triton and Poseidon in 2015. A proposal for the 2016 budget will be adopted before the end of May. The Commission is counting on the co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, to swiftly follow up on their commitments and adopt the amending budget without delay.

The new Triton Operational Plan, agreed between Frontex and Italy, will be presented before the end of May. When implemented, this will expand both the number of deployed assets and the geographical scope of the operation, so that Frontex can fulfil its dual role of coordinating operational border support to Member States under pressure, and helping to save the lives of migrants at sea.

How will this be financed?

As a first step, the Commission will make available a total of €89 million of additional funding from the EU budget in 2015. For this, a draft amending budget is being proposed to the European Parliament and to the Council today.

Of the total amount, €27 million will be for Frontex, to reinforce the two operations Triton and Poseidon; this reinforcement will correspond to a tripling of the operations for the last 7 months of the year 2015.

In order to assist frontline Member States in receiving an increased number of migrants, the Commission proposed to increase the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) by €57 million. This amount will be used to double the emergency assistance for all stages of the process after the first arrival and screening of migrants (€25 million), to implement a voluntary pilot project on resettlement (€25 million) and to reinforce the Regional Development and Protection Programmes for North Africa and the Horn of Africa (€7 million). In addition, the Commission proposes to increase Internal Security Fund (ISF) by €5 million to cover emergency assistance for the surveillance activities carried out in the context of operations Triton and Poseidon such as first medical aid, identification of migrants.

The Commission also proposes to increase the staffing and budget of the three agencies directly involved in responding to migratory pressures:

  • Frontex: 16 additional posts; €528 000 in additional expenditure for 2015
  • Europol: 3 additional posts; €99 000 in additional expenditure for 2015
  • European Asylum Support Office (EASO): 4 additional posts; €132 000 in additional expenditure for 2015.

In terms of commitments, the biggest part of the amount of €89 million comes from the margins of Heading 3 with €13.2 million coming from assigned revenues recovered from the closure of old files under the External Borders Fund. The same source will also cover for €7 million in payments. The remaining nearly €70 million in payments will come from the Galileo programme, as the procurement of the third batch of satellites originally planned for 2015 is now planned for the second quarter of 2016.

The overall level of payments in the 2015 budget will thus remain unchanged.

How will the emergency relocation quota system work?

To deal with the situation in the Mediterranean, the Commission will, by the end of May, propose to trigger the emergency response system envisaged under Article 78(3)[1] of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The proposal will include a temporary relocation mechanism for asylum-seekers in clear need of international protection to ensure a fair and balanced participation of all Member States in this common effort. The receiving Member State will be responsible for the examination of the asylum application in accordance with established EU rules. The Commission will define a redistribution key based on criteria such as GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees.

Does the Commission also intend to propose a permanent system of responsibility sharing?

Yes, the EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among Member States. The Commission will therefore table a legislative proposal by the end of 2015 to provide for a mandatory and automatically-triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU when a mass influx emerges. The scheme will take into account the efforts already made on a voluntary basis by Member States.

Will the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark be bound by the rules and laws adopted under the European Agenda on Migration?

The United Kingdom and Ireland have an ‘opt-in’ right under the Treaties, whereby they may choose, within three months of a proposal being presented to the Council under Title V Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), whether they wish to participate in the measure.

The Kingdom of Denmark has an ‘opt-out’ right whereby they do not participate in Title V Part Three TFEU measures.

Article 78(3) TFEU is located in Title V Part Three of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU. This means: the United Kingdom and Ireland will only be bound if they so choose. Denmark will not be bound by the rules and laws adopted under the European Agenda on Migration.

Will the Agenda make it easier for refugees to be brought safely and legally to the EU via resettlement mechanisms?

By the end of May, the Commission will make a Recommendation proposing an EU-wide resettlement scheme to offer 20,000 places. This scheme will cover all Member States, with distribution criteria such as GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and past numbers of asylum seekers and of resettled refugees, taking into consideration the efforts already made on a voluntary basis by Member States. The EU budget will provide dedicated funding of an extra €50 million in 2015-2016 to support this scheme.

Where will the €50 million for the resettlement scheme come from?

The additional money for the EU-wide resettlement scheme (€50 million, spread evenly across 2015 and 2016) will be added to the special Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) envelope for resettlement, relocation and specific actions. This envelope already has a volume of €360 million for the period 2014-2020, of which a small share (about €50 million) is for specific actions. The rest of the budget is planned to be spent on the existing (voluntary) EU resettlement scheme.

How does the Commission intend to mobilise EU Agencies and funds to face the current emergency situation?

The Commission will set up a new ‘Hotspot’ approach, where the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol will work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants. The work of the agencies will be complementary to one another. Those claiming asylum will be immediately channelled into an asylum procedure where European Asylum Support Office (EASO) support teams will help to process asylum cases as quickly as possible. For those who are not in need of protection, Frontexwill help Member States’ in coordinating thereturn of irregular migrants. Europol and Eurojust will assist the host Member State with investigations to dismantle the smuggling and trafficking networks.

How will these ‘Hotspot’ actions be financed?

To underpin these initiatives, the Commission is mobilising an additional €60 million in emergency funding, including support to the reception and healthcare system of Member States under particular pressure. This additional emergency funding will come through the Internal Security Fund (ISF) (€10 million) and the Asylum and Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) (€50 million), foreseen for 2015 and 2016. It will be provided to frontline Member States as a necessary supporting measure for the reinforcement of the Triton and Poseidon operations to rescue migrants.

How does the Agenda plan to step up the fight against smugglers and traffickers?

As the death toll in the Mediterranean is mainly caused by smugglers who exploit migrants’ despair and put their lives at risk, the priority for Europe is to dismantle the criminal networks that organise those journeys. The fundamental objective of EU action in this area will be to develop a comprehensive set of initiatives through a dedicated Action Plan that will be adopted by the end of May, aimed at transforming the smuggling networks from ‘low risk, high return’ operations for criminals into ‘high risk, low return’ ones. In the Action Plan, the Commission will propose initiatives to step up investigation and prosecution of criminal networks of smugglers, to help disrupt them, bring the perpetrators to justice and seize their assets, through swift action by Member States’ authorities in cooperation with the EU Agencies.

What are the main steps to establish better information sharing to combat smuggling?

The High Representative/Vice-President has already presented options for possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations to systematically identify capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers. Such action, which should be done in accordance with international law, will be a powerful demonstration of the EU’s determination to act. More will be done to pool and better use information to identify and target smugglers. EUROPOL will establish as a single entry point for inter-agency cooperation on smuggling. Frontex and EUROPOL will develop profiles of vessels which could be used by smugglers. EUROPOL will also undertake initiatives to request the removal of internet content used by smugglers to attract migrants and refugees.

Will cooperation on migration issues be increased with third countries of transit and origin?

The EU will scale up its engagement with third key third countries, starting from a high level dedicated political summit that will take place in Malta with key partners on addressing root causes, protecting people in need, dismantling smuggling networks. The EU will step up cooperation with countries of transit, starting from Niger and Mali, where the existing CSDP operations will be reinforced to enhance border control. Regional Development and Protection Programmes (RDPPs) will be set up or deepened, starting in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. An additional €30 million will be made available in 2015-2016 and should be complemented by additional contributions from Member States.

In addition, the EU will further develop existing bilateral and regional cooperation frameworks on migration (Rabat Process, Khartoum Process, the Budapest Process, the EU-Africa Migration and Mobility Dialogue – for more information see MEMO/15/4832). These will be enriched by increasing the role of EU Delegations in the field of migration in key countries. Delegations will in particular report on major migratory related developments in the host countries, contribute to mainstreaming migration issues into development cooperation and reach out to host countries to ensure coordinated action. European migration liaison officers will be seconded in EU Delegations in key third countries, in close cooperation with the Immigration Liaison Officers Network and with local authorities and civil society, with the purpose of gathering, exchanging and analysing information. As a first step, liaison officers will be seconded to Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan.

Where will the €30 million   to finance Regional Development and Protection Programmes (RDPPs) come from?  

The total amount of €30 million for the RDPPs, initially in North Africa and in the Horn of Africa, will be spent through the AMIF annual work programmes (AWP) for Union Actions. An amount of €8 million already available in the AMIF AWP 2015 will be topped up with 7m from the Amending Budget 2015 and with another 15m to be proposed in the Draft Budget 2016. This will allow the programmes to run at least until the end of 2017. As a first step, the two RDPPs are planned to be implemented through grants awarded directly to two transnational consortia, led by Italy (North Africa) and the Netherlands (Horn of Africa). UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will be implementing partners.

Will centres in third countries be established? What will be their role?

A pilot multi-purpose centre will be set up in Niger by the end of the year. Working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Niger authorities, the centre will combine the provision of information, local protection and resettlement opportunities for those in need. Such centres in countries of origin or transit would help to provide a realistic picture of the likely success of migrants’ journeys, and offer assisted voluntary return options for irregular migrants.

How will the Agenda ensure a strong Common European Asylum System in the future?

The priority is to ensure a full and coherent implementation of the Common European Asylum System. This will be supported by a new systematic monitoring process, to look into the implementation and application of the asylum rules and foster mutual trust. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) will also step up practical cooperation with Member States, to become a point of reference in providing centralised Country of Origin Information (COI) – the factual information on which asylum decisions are based. This would encourage more uniform decisions. Strengthening the Common European Asylum System also means a more effective approach to abuses. Too many requests are unfounded: in 2014, 55% of the asylum requests resulted in a negative decision and for some nationalities, rejection rates approached 100%, hampering the capacity of Member States to provide swift protection to those in need.

What about the Dublin system, will it be reviewed?

A strong asylum system also depends on the good functioning of the Dublin III Regulation. This system establishes the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged by a third-country national or a stateless person. The criteria for establishing responsibility run, in hierarchical order, from family considerations, to recent possession of visa or residence permit in a Member State, to whether the applicant has entered the EU irregularly or regularly. Though the recent legal improvements date only from 2014, the Dublin system is not working as it should. In 2014, five Member States dealt with 72% of all asylum applications EU-wide. When the Dublin system was designed, Europe was at a different stage of cooperation in the field of asylum, when the inflows were of a different nature and scale. When the Commission undertakes its evaluation of the Dublin system in 2016, it will also be able to draw on the experiencefrom therelocation and resettlement mechanisms. This will help to determine whether a revision of the legal parameters of Dublin will be needed to achieve a fairer distribution of asylum seekers in Europe.

What about the long term strategy in the area of asylum?

The EU Treaty looks forward to a uniform asylum status valid throughout the Union. The Commission will launch a broad debate on the next steps in the development of the Common European Asylum System, including the possibilities of a common Asylum Code and the mutual recognition of positive asylum decisions between Member States. A longer term reflection towards establishing a single asylum decision process will also be part of the debate, aiming to guarantee equal treatment of asylum seekers throughout Europe.

Why does the Agenda focus on the need to make the EU’s return system more effective?

One of the incentives for irregular migrants is the knowledge that the EU’s return system – to return irregular migrants or those whose asylum applications are refused – works imperfectly. Smuggling networks often play on the fact that relatively few return decisions are enforced. According to Eurostat, of the approximately 425 000 persons issued with a return decision in 2013, only around 167 000 left the EU. The effort to dismantle smuggling networks is also heavily dependent on the capacity to deter potential irregular migrants from undertaking the journey.

To increase the return rate, we need to first ensure that third countries fulfil their international obligation to take back their own nationals residing irregularly in Europe. In parallel, Member States have to apply the Return Directive. The Commission will give priority to monitoring implementation of the Directive, with a more swift return system going hand-in-hand with the respect of the procedures and standards that allow Europe to ensure a humane and dignified treatment of returnees and a proportionate use of coercive measures, in line with fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement. New rules on the return of irregular migrants are now being put in place in the framework of the Schengen Evaluation Mechanism, and a ‘Return Handbook’ will support Member States with common guidelines, best practices and recommendations.

Will Frontex play an enhanced role when it comes to supporting Member States’ return activities?

While the EU has common rules on return, it lacks effective operational cooperation. Frontex is currently offering considerable support to Member States, but its mandate must be reinforced to increase its capacity to provide comprehensive operational assistance. Currently, Frontex can only coordinate joint return missions but not initiate its own. On the basis of the ongoing evaluation to be concluded this year, the Commission will propose to amend the Frontex legal basis to strengthen its role on return.

What is the aim of the Agenda when it comes to better securing the EU’s external borders and save lives?

The EU has an established policy to help Member States build up sound and consistent external borders. The Internal Security Fund already provides over €2.7 billion to Member States for the period from 2014-2020. But while rules on border control are in place, border management today varies, based on a patchwork of documents and instruments. In 2016, the Commission will put forward a Union Standard for Border Management to secure a high and uniform standard in the control of all aspects of the Union’s external borders.

Will the Commission present a new proposal on Smart Borders?

Yes, the Commission intends to present a revised proposal on Smart Borders by the beginning of 2016, since managing our borders more efficiently also implies making better use of the opportunities offered by IT systems and technologies. A revised “Smart Borders” initiative will be presented to increase the efficiency of border crossings, facilitating crossings for the large majority of ‘bona fide’ third country travellers, whilst at the same time strengthening the fight against irregular migration by creating a record of all cross-border movements by third country nationals, fully respecting proportionality.

Does the Agenda propose to develop an EU System of Border guards?

Today, the management of external borders is still very much a shared responsibility. In 2016, the Commission will launch a comprehensive policy debate about the further development of operational cooperation at the external borders. As well as the possibility of a European System of Border Guards, this would cover a new approach to coastguard functions in the EU, looking at initiatives such as asset sharing, joint exercises and dual use of resources, including the possibility of moving towards a European Coastguard.

How does the Agenda address the need to open up legal channels for migration into the EU?

The EU wide resettlement scheme (see above) will serve as a means for people in need of international protection to safely and legally enter the EU.

With an ageing population, the EU is mainly facing skilled shortages on the labour market, particularly in sectors such as science, technology and engineering. That is why the European Commission will present a new Labour Mobility Package in 2015, and launch a public consultation of the Blue Card Directive to attract more highly qualified third-country nationals.

At the same time, the EU will invest in establishing a long-term business dialogue with the private sector, trade unions and other social partners, to better understand the varying needs of our economy and labour markets, and to exchange best practices.

The Commission will make available at least €30 million to support third countries with building up their capacity to effectively manage labour migration, focusing on empowering migrant workers and tackling exploitation. The Commission will also promote ethical recruitment in sectors suffering from a lack of qualified workers in countries of origin and will facilitate cheaper, faster and safer remittance transfers.

In the future, the Commission wants to look into developing an “expression of interest system” together with the Member States, where potential candidate migrants could be matched with interested employers across the EU.

For More Information

Press release IP on the Migration Agenda

[1] Art.78.3 TFEU: “In the event of one or more Member States being confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the Member State(s) concerned. It shall act after consulting the European Parliament.”