Refugee crisis: Is the European quota system working at all?

After the harrowing clearance of the Calais “Jungle” camp this month, Europe is trying to redeem itself

Francesca Astorri

Published: Updated:

When it comes to the refugee crisis, different solutions proved to be inadequate, a reality which led to the European Union quota system which was agreed upon in September 2015 but - many say - is failing to live up to promises.

After the harrowing clearance of the Calais “Jungle” camp this month, where human rights groups denounced the alleged harassment and abuse of migrants at the hands of French police, Europe is trying to redeem itself with a solution that looks fair.

According to the European Union, decisions number 1523 and 1601 state that member states should each accept specific numbers of asylum seekers from front-line Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, which are overwhelmed with migrants.

The idea of a quota system, scaled to a member state’s population and wealth, was embraced with the aim of acting as one and proportionally sharing responsibilities and costs, without leaving a few states alone to deal with the largest number of displaced people since World War II.

But while this might sound convincing in theory, in practice the way it has been implemented seems to be leading to another failure.
Despite the apparent good intentions of the proposed quota system, and the 250,000-euro-per-migrant fine if countries failed to respect the European Union decision, most member states are far from accepting the number of asylum seekers they first agreed to.

Over a year after the solution was approved, EU member states have accepted less than 3 percent of the total required by the quota system decision. Only 1,392 of the 47,857 asylum seekers were relocated according to the quota system. Some states are still yet to allow a single refugee into their coutnries’.

According to the Italian Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano, “this is not acceptable.” The minister added that worse than denying solidarity, is to promise solidarity and then deny it in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“The problem is the evident and collective breach (of the EU decision), while facing an emergency, that shows that Europe is not reliable” Alfano said.

Looking at the data of the Italian Ministry of Interior, the number of alleged evaders is impressive. Germany, which registered 476,510 asylum applications according to the European Parliament data, accepted 20 asylum seekers out of its 14,527 quota so far. France and Belgium, two founders of the European Union, have accepted respectively only 231 out of 9,816, and 29 of 1,943 so far.

If this looks outrageous, don’t read any further because moving to Eastern Europe the figures drop even further, with countries that were supposed to accept thousands of asylum seekers remain at zero. The most embarrassing thing for the EU is that all member states are violating the quota system: there isn’t a single country that is enforcing it fully.

This is the reason why the Italian Ministry of Interior seems to be ready to open an infringement procedure against all non-complying states. If the 250,000 euro per-migrant fine were enforced, we are talking about billions of euros that these countries should be transferring to the European Union.

“The relocation plan turned out to be completely inappropriate and showed the selfish nature of the policies of many European Union countries - the governments of which have sometimes sought the people’s approval to legitimate their closure policies”, Riccardo Noury, spokesman of Amnesty International in Italy, said to Al Arabiya English.

While waiting for the European Union to find a feasible solution, the number of migrants arriving by sea is increasing. In 2015 alone, more than one million people poured into the continent, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

According to the UNHCR, in 2016 so far, more than 332,000 people arrived in Europe by sea - 158,062 of which arrived on Italian shores.

The large majority of these migrants come from the world’s top 10 refugee-producing countries. More than a quarter came from Syria, while 14 percent from Afghanistan and 9 percent from Iraq.