Decline of the rights of migrants and refugees, decline of the idea of Europe, … 2016, heading down a slippery slope!

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 22 December 2016 – In its December 2015 newsletter[1] AEDH published, a census of all the decisions and initiatives taken during the year by the European Union institutions in the field of migration and asylum. The year 2016, which should have been placed under the seal of the implementation of the “European agenda on migration”, published on 13 May 2015, proved to be remarkably long-winded, every month with its fill of reform proposals, new measures, initiatives and speeches.

History will certainly remember that this year was the one in which where foreseen, proposed, committed some of the most detrimental reforms regarding the rights of migrants and refugees, all to make Europe feel “protected”. No doubt that 2016 was the year in which Europe has trampled on its fundamental values and, by doing so, postponed for a long time its entry into the modern age.[2]

However, apparently, the European Council is proud of itself and of the vigour of its policies. The movie which the Council issued on the 9th of December – at the eve of the international day of Human Rights – presents as victories against a dangerous enemy, pell-mell, the strengthening of borders control to stop “uncontrolled” migrants flows, the closure of the Balkans route, the agreement concluded with Turkey and the return of people in an irregular situation in this country, the decrease in arrivals in Greece (forgetting to show that as a secondary effect, Italy is now in difficulty), the launch of the European border and coast guard, the fight against smugglers, the return of migrants to third countries, … the Council admits that “a lot remains to be done”,  but concluded with great fanfare that “in 2016 the EU regained control on illegal migration[3].

The lengthy text that follows makes the census, in its turn, of these “glory moments” that the EU made us know in 2016 …


2016: Census of the decisions taken by the EU in the field of immigration and asylum

Ø  13 January 2016: the European Commission reviewed its actions taken during the year 2015 in the framework of the European agenda on migration, and proposes new measurers for 2016:

·         The reform of Dublin system;

·         Legal migration: reform of the Blue Card Directive;

·         Measures in favour of integration;

·         Measures to tackle migrant smuggling;

·         Voluntary humanitarian admission scheme with Turkey;

·         Cooperation with third countries to tackle the root causes of displacements.


Ø  21 January 2016: EU provided 77 million euros in humanitarian aid for 2016 in favour of the Horn of Africa, in order to respond to the most urgent needs of displaced populations in the region. This action is the follow-up of the Khartoum process signed one year before.


Ø  10 February 2016: Communication of the Commission on the state of play of implementation of the priority actions under the European agenda on migration; presentation of the following reports concerning :

·         The hotspots approach and relocation scheme in Italy and Greece;

·         The measures taken to implement the commitments agreed at the “Western Balkans leaders meeting” in October 2015;

·         The implementation of the EU Turkey joint action plan.

The Commission has also issued reasoned opinions about nine infringement proceedings concerning the transposition of the Common European asylum system.

o   Read the : Commission reports on progress in Greece, Italy and the Western Balkans

o   Read the Recommendation of the Commission addressed to Greece on the urgent measures to be taken in view of the resumption of Dublin transfers


Ø  11 February 2016 : NATO accepted to launch its first mission of surveillance of the borders in the Aegean Sea, in order to slow down the flow of refugees and migrants who keep arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish territory.


Ø  12 February 2016: Recommendation of the Council to Greece to address the serious deficiencies in the protection of its external borders.


Ø  18/19 February 2016: meeting of the European Council:

·         progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey joint action plan and the intention of organising a special  meeting with Turkey in March;

·         humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees;

·         application of the Schengen Borders code

·         hotspots;

·         review of the decisions taken on relocation, returns and readmission.


Ø  22 February 2016: Europol launched the new European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC).


Ø  25 February 2016: the Justice and Home Affairs Council devoted its meeting to the cooperation with Turkey, to developments on the Western Balkans route, to negotiations to reinforce checks at external borders and to the proposal for a European board and coast guard.


Ø  4 March 2016: the Commission proposed a roadmap exposing the measures to take for restoring the fully functioning of the Schengen system.

On this same day, the Commission announced its first projects under the Facility for refugees in Turkey for an amount of 95 million euros.


Ø  15 March 2016: approval by the JHA Council of a regulation setting up an EU emergency support mechanism for Member States in order to “provide a faster, more targeted response to major crises”, (100 million euros in commitments and 80.2 million euros in payments).


Ø  15 March 2016: the Commission adopted its first report on relocation and resettlement: 937 asylum seekers relocated and 4 555 resettled.


Ø  16 March 2016: in a report concerning the revision of Dublin III regulation, the European Parliament proposed a centralised system for asylum applications, which would work on the basis of hostpots and national quotas.


Ø  18 March 2018: EU-Turkey declaration. The European ministers signed with Turkey the « 1 for 1 » agreement, which sets out, from the 20th March, the return of “irregular” migrants coming from Turkey to Greece and the resettlement in Europe of one  Syrian for every Syrian resettled to Turkey. The resettlement of 72 000 Syrians is also established. Before the conclusion of the agreement, the 16th of March, the European leaders agreed on the six principles, described in the communication of the Commission.


Ø  6 April 2016: the Commission presented a Communication of the “options for reforming the Common European Asylum System and developing safe and legal pathways to Europe”. Five priority topics:

·         “Establishing a sustainable and fair system for determining the Member State responsible for asylum seekers;

·         Achieving greater convergence and reducing asylum shopping;

·         Preventing secondary movements within the EU;

·         A new mandate for the EU’s asylum agency;

·         [4]


Ø  12 April 2016: second report on relocation and resettlement: 1 1145 asylum seekers relocated and 5 677 resettled.


Ø  18 April 2016: the Commission announced the launch of 20 actions in order “to tackle the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in the Sahel region and Lake Chad”.


Ø  19 April 2016: additional 110 million euros for the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement.


Ø  20 April 2016: the first report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement. The Commission recommends to Member States to intensify their efforts to support Greece, and to Turkey to improve its protection of refugees and to take the necessary measures for the visa liberalisation process.


Ø  4 May 2016: the Commission presented its proposals aimed at reforming the common European asylum system, and in particular at:

·         Reforming the Dublin system;

·         Reinforcing Eurodac system;

·         Creating a European Union Agency for asylum.


On the same day, the Commission adopted a recommendation on Schengen. Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway can extend for six months controls at their external borders, in a proportional way and in accordance with the Schengen border code. On 12 May, the Council adopted the decision setting out the recommendation of the Commission.


Ø  18 May 2016: The Commission published its third report on relocation and resettlement: 155 asylum seekers have been relocated and 6 321 resettled.


Ø  19 May 2016: the first report on the progress made in the fight against the trafficking of human beings, adopted by the Commission, has shown that sexual exploitation is still the most widespread purpose of trafficking, followed by labour exploitation. Over three quarters of the registered victims were women (76%), while at least 15% were children.


Ø  26 May 2016: provision of 47 million euros under the Facility for refugees in Turkey: 20 million euros to increase the capacity of the Turkish coast guards and 27 million euros to facilitate refugees’ access to education.


Ø  30 May 2016: the MEPs announced their support to:

  • A new European travel document to ease the return of irregular third country nationals, known under the name of European “laissez passer” (LPE).

  •  A new European border and coast guard. Nevertheless, the MEPs of the LIBE Commission amended the proposal of the Commission so that “it is up to member states (in the Council) to decide on the intervention, by qualified majority, and not the Commission”, in particular facing an increased pressure at their borders.


Ø  7 June 2016: the Commission proposed a new partnership framework with third countries in order to reinforce cooperation to better manage migration flows. These partnerships should take the form of “compacts”, concluded with countries of origin and transit, according to their needs and their situation.

On the same day, the European Commission presented its action plan under the European agenda on migration, regarding:

·         An Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals

·         The reform of the European Blue Card:

    Establishment of an EU-wide scheme concerning highly skilled third-country workers;

 Improvement of intra-EU mobility by facilitating the procedures and also allowing for shorter business trips of up to 90 days;

  Reduction of the salary threshold, “by creating a flexible range within which Member States can adjust the threshold to their labour markets contexts”;

   Possibility for beneficiaries of international protection to apply for a Blue Card;

   Strengthening of the rights for Blue Card holders and members of their family.

Ø  15 June 2016: in this day the Commission published:

·         Fourth report on relocation and resettlement: the total number of people relocated is 2 280, while the resettled ones are 7 272;

·         Second report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement: 462 irregular migrants have been returned to Turkey, included 31 Syrians;

·         Second recommendation on urgent measures to be taken by Greece in view of the resumption of transfers under the Dublin regulation.


Ø  20 June 2016: the European Council decided to extend the Operation Sophia off the Libyan coast by one year, and to reinforce its mandate and its missions, including “training of the Libyan coastguards and navy and contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya”.


Ø  22 June 2016: the COREPER (Permanent Representatives Committee of the Council of the EU) approved, on behalf of the Council, the compromise text concluded with the Parliament on the proposal for a regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard.

From its side, the Commission launched new projects worth more than 200 million euros to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.


Ø  30 June 2016: the Commission proposed the mobilisation of additional 1.4 billion euros under the Facility for refugees in Turkey.

The Commission has also proposed a draft budget for 2017 focused on “growth, jobs and a solid response to the refugee crisis”.


Ø  6 July 2016: request of the Parliament to Member States to use the EU budget surplus of 1.349 billion euros to honour their pledges of contributing to two EU trust funds set up to tackle the refugee crisis: the Africa Trust Fund and the Madad Trust Fund for Syria.

The Parliament approved the merging of the European agency Frontex and the authorities in charge of the management of national borders.


Ø  7 July 2016: LIBE Commission approved the creation of a European list of safe countries of origin, to replace national lists in 3 years. The European Commission will assess the countries that will be included in the list, after reception of EASO reports on Turkey and the Western Balkans.

During the same plenary session, LIBE Commission amended and approved plans to strengthen the EU’s visa suspension mechanism for third countries, in the event of sudden ioncrease in irregular immigration and/or “unfounded” asylum applications, or a failure to cooperate with the EU on returns.


Ø  13 July 2016: the European Commission presented:

        Replacing the asylum procedures directive with a regulation;

        Replacing the “qualification” directive by a regulation


  •  The European resettlement Framework in order to establish a European common policy on resettlement and to ensure orderly and safe pathways to Europe for persons in need of international protection.

  • Its fifth report on the progress made by the EU under the programs of relocation and resettlement: 3 056 people relocated and 8 268 resettled.


Ø  28 July 2016: provision of 1.4 billion euros “to finance actions in the field of health, education, socio-economic support as well as humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees” in Turkey.


Ø  30 August 2016: the PSC (Political and Security Committee) authorised an extension of the mandate of the EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia, with two additional tasks:

·         training of the Libyan coastguard and navy;

·         contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo on the high seas off the coast of Libya.


Ø  8 September 2016: the EU committed the largest humanitarian programme to address the needs of refugees in Turkey. This humanitarian fund (Emergency Social Safety Network (ESSN)) of 348 million euros is rolled out by the World Food programme (WFP) with the collaboration of Turkish institutions for refugees and the Red Crescent. This programme aims at providing pre-paid electronic cards to refugees in Turkey; it will start the 26th of September.


Ø  10 September 2016: releasing of 115 million euros to Greece, under the EU emergency support instrument.


Ø  12 September 2016: the Council of the EU adopted its position on the 2017 budget, accepting the figures proposed by the Commission for tackling the challenges linked to the migratory situation.


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Ø  16 September 2016: provision of 108 million euros to Bulgaria, in order to better manage its borders and migration flows.


Ø  28 September 2016: several publications of the Commission:

·           Sixth report on relocation and resettlement: the total number of people relocated is 5 651, while those resettled are 10 695;

·    Third Report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement: 578 irregular migrants have been returned to Turkey and 2 239 billion euros have been allocated, at this time, under the Facility for refugees in Turkey;

Report on the Schengen system and on the application of Council recommendation of 12 May 2016 setting out the reintroduction of internal border controls: the temporary checks at internal borders must respect the conditions of proportionality and necessity;

·         Third recommendation on concrete measures to be taken by Greece in the field of asylum.

On this same day the Commission signed grants worth 600 million euros aimed at improving education and health of Syrian refugees and their host communities in Turkey.


Ø  2 October 2016: the Joint Way Forward on migration issues between the EU and Afghanistan was signed by the two partners, assuring a strengthen cooperation with regard to return, readmission and reintegration of Afghans nationals.


Ø  17 October 2016: the JHA Council adopted its position on the partnership priorities with third countries and the way forward concerning the compacts with Jordan and Lebanon.


Ø  18 October 2016: publication of the first report on implementing the partnership frameworks with third countries, in the field of migration. The report considers Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia as priority countries for tackling irregular immigration.


Ø  25 October 2016: the Commission delivered an aid of 60 million euros “to tackle root causes of migration in Senegal”.


Ø  26 October2016: beginning of negotiations between the EU and Nigeria for the conclusion of a readmission agreement, establishing procedures for the return and readmission of “irregular” migrants to Nigeria.


Ø  26 October 2016: definitive adoption (Council and Parliament) of the regulation on the establishment of a uniform European travel document (LPE) for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals. The decision follows the Parliament approval on 15 September and the Council ones on 13 October.


Ø  9 November 2016: seventh report on relocation and resettlement: 1212 asylum seekers have been relocated, while 11 852 people have been resettled.


Ø  11 November 2016: Schengen. The council adopted the recommendation of the Commission of 25 October, concerning the prolongation of internal temporary controls for 3 months.


Ø  15 November 2016: the EU signed with Lebanon the partnership priorities for the coming four years, as well as the “compact”.


Ø  16 November 2016: the Commission proposed the creation of a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). The system will “gather information on all those travelling visa-free to the European Union”, in order to strengthen advance irregular migration and security checks.

16 November 2016: publication by EASO of the reports on the Western Balkans and Turkey. These reports were awaited for the designation of the list of safe countries of origin, requested by the Commission. They are based on the evaluation of state structure, socio-political landscape, rule of law inside these countries, as well as level of security and human rights respect.


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Ø  6 December 2016: adoption of a new package of 82 million euros for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and their host communities: 62 million euros for health programmes and 20 million euros for water, sanitation and hygiene projects.


Ø  Ø  8 December 2016: the Commission reports on progress made in respect of migration politics. It published:

·         Its eight report on relocation and resettlement: the total  number of people relocated is 8 162, while those resettled are 13 887;

·         Its fourth report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement: 1187 irregular migrants have been returned to Turkey. Annexed to the report, a joint action plan, elaborated with the Greek authorities, was published on the implementation of the Statement ;

·         Its fourth recommendation on urgent measures to be taken by Greece as regard to asylum. The Commission finds that resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece could be operated from 15 March 2017.


Ø  8 December 2016: the Parliament adopted the proposal aimed at transforming the European asylum support office (EASO) in the European Union Agency for Asylum. With its missions enhanced, the Agency will monitor the application of EU asylum legislation by Member States, and will provide the necessary aid in crisis situations.


Ø  8 December 2016: the Council of the EU, the Parliament and the Commission agreed on a compromise to review the visa suspension mechanism, to strengthen it. A suspension on the exemption of visa could concern a non-EU country, in one or more of the following cases:

        –        An increase in nationals of that country in an irregular staying;

        –        An increase in unfunded asylum applications;

        –        A lack of cooperation on readmissions.


Ø  8 December 2016: decision of the Council of the EU to provide 200 million euros in macro-financial assistance to Jordan.


Ø  9 December 2016: green light of the Council to endorse discussions with the Parliament on the recast of the Eurodac regulation.


Ø  14 December 2016: second report of the Commission on the implementation of the partnership with third countries.

New package of 381 million euros under the emergency trust fund for Africa addressed to the Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin.


Ø  15 December 2016: the Commission adopted the following decisions:

·         Financial aid to Niger to the tune of 610 million euros in 2016 to improve border controls and the fight against the root causes of migration;

·         Initiative launched by the EU, Germany, Italy and the IOM “for migrant protection and reintegration in Africa along the Central Mediterranean migration routes”;

·         Package of 170 million euros to finance 11 actions in the Horn of Africa.

Ø  15 December 2016: informal meeting of the European Council on migration.


Ø  16 December 2016: agreement of the Commission for projects worth 37 million eurosto tackle migration challenges in North Africa”.


Ø  20 December 2016: agreement of the Council, through the COREPER, to start discussions with the Parliament about the regulation on the European Union agency for asylum (ex EASO/BEEA).


Ø  20 December 2016: the Council of the EU adopted the partnership priorities and the “compact” with Jordan.


Compte AEDH