The European Commission is setting aside €500 million to pay member states to resettle 50,000 refugees from Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya and Sudan by late 2019.
EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters on Wednesday (27 September) that the move was needed to help curtail irregular migrant flows to Europe.
“I really count on member states to make ambitious pledges,” he said. Some 14,000 places among 11 EU states have already been pledged since July for the Africa scheme.
“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” he said.
The EU commission’s announcement follows UN calls for an additional 40,000 resettlement spaces in Europe.
But baiting EU states with money “to show solidarity”, or some €10,000 for each person resettled, also appears pragmatic given the bloc’s track record on migrants.
Altogether, some 39,000 people were resettled from Africa throughout the world for the entire year of 2016.
Of those, only around 1,800 found homes in the EU, of which some 50 ended up in non-EU member state Norway, according to figures provided by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Not a single person was resettled from Niger in 2016 despite a waiting list of over 11,000. Chad resettled 641, but they all went either to Canada or to the United States.
The global numbers also showed a low level of engagement by EU states.
Last year, the UNHCR said, some 126,000 were resettled worldwide, of which only 13,275 ended up in an EU state, or 17,147 including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. Most went to the United States and Canada.
These figures appeared to contradict earlier statements by EU commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, who told MEPs during his recent state-of-the-union address, that EU states last year had “resettled or granted asylum” to three times more people than the United States, Canada, and Australia combined.
Meanwhile, resettlement to the EU from Turkey and the Middle East will continue. Around 23,000 have left refugee camps, mainly from Turkey and Jordan, to settle in an EU state.
“We cannot stop showing solidarity towards these desperate people and the countries hosting them,” noted Avramopoulos.
The resettlement plans are voluntary and differ from a separate EU relocation scheme.
Unlike relocation, resettlement refers to people already identified by the UN as refugees and who typically resided in camps outside Europe.
Relocation refers to people who arrive mainly by boat to either Greece or Italy and are then registered as asylum seekers and sent to another member state to process their claim.
In practice, people who end up on the Greek islands are often stuck in a legal limbo given the broad resistance towards relocation in EU states and due to Greek administrative blunders.
Despite fewer new arrivals, many still sleep out in the open and in poor conditions amid reports of violence and self-harm.
The EU’s two-year relocation quota scheme, which ended this month, managed to relocate only 29,000 people, given widespread bureaucratic delays, political resistance, and outright boycotts from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.
The main evening news show on Polish state TV on Wednesday hailed the failure of the relocation quotas as a victory for Hungary and Poland in the EU.
It said the voluntary nature of the resettlement scheme meant that the EU commission had given up on its previous idea of forcing member states to take in people against their wishes.
Meanwhile, the EU commission hopes that a long-awaited reform of the so-called Dublin regulation, which determines the member state responsible for an asylum seeker’s registration, will now be possible.
“Now that the migratory flows have subsided in Europe, there is once again a window of opportunity to advance the work,” said Avramopoulos.