EU unveils new migration plan amid free movement backlash

Fifty thousand refugees will be relocated over two years, even as Schengen rules are tightened

Migrants queue to enter the refugee centre near Porte de la Chapelle, northern Paris
(Image credit: Geoffroy Van Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images)

The EU has unveiled a two-year programme to bring 50,000 asylum seekers to Europe amid a growing backlash against both letting in new refugees from outside the bloc and freedom of movement within it.

Under the proposals, the European Commission has set aside €500m (£439m) to relocate refugees mostly from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia. It also wants to encourage private sponsorship schemes to help migrants avoid people smugglers and come to Europe legally.

European Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini said the new plan was “about managing one of the most complex, structural phenomena of our times, not a temporary emergency”.

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She dismissed accusations that the previous two-year programme - which ended yesterday - had failed, relocating less than a fifth of its planned 160,000 asylum seekers, and said EU migration policy is “starting to work”.

To deal with the 1.7 million refugees believed to have arrived since 2014, the EU has suspended the Dublin rule, under which refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach.

In an effort to relieve the burden on frontline countries such as Greece and Italy, which receive an disproportionate number of refugees, the EU has attempted to spread them throughout the bloc.

However, this has “soured” relations in the 28-country European Union, says the BBC, especially among eastern states. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic challenged the EU’s mandatory resettlement scheme at the European Court of Justice earlier this month.

Though the court rejected the challenge, Slovakian Economy Minister Peter Ziga told reporters: “The quota system does not work, so the court decision is, perhaps, irrelevant at the moment.”

The Daily Mail says it is “unclear how far Brussels may try to force eastern states to take refugees, many of whom themselves are reluctant to settle in the poorer, ex-Soviet bloc”.

Countries like Germany and Italy, which are housing large numbers of people, have said the easterners will jeopardise their western-funded EU subsidies if they go on refusing, but it is “a delicate balancing act as putting such a thorny issue to a vote, and possibly passing a migration reform despite opposition from several states, would cause even more bad blood”, says the Mail.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel was punished by voters for her liberal refugee policy and amid growing fear of cross-border terrorism and the rise of the far-right across Europe, many leaders are looking for ways to limit the free movement between EU nations enshrined in the Schengen Agreement.

Germany, France, Austria, Denmark and Norway have reinstated ‘temporary’ border checks at certain points in response to migrant arrivals over the past six months. The Commission is now planning to extend the time limit for such temporary measures from six months to up to three years, the BBC reports, “but obliges member states to assess whether alternative measures are available”.

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