The European Union (EU) has signed an important additional contribution of EUR 9.5 million to the 2017 Programme Budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in response to a call to donors to help close a shortfall that could impact its key services such as education and health-care.
The announcement was made during a meeting on 20 September between UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. This contribution comes in addition to the disbursement earlier this year of EUR 82 million to the UNRWA Programme Budget.
The new contribution will help preserve access to education for 500,000 children, provide primary health care for more than 3.5 million patients and assistance to over 250,000 acutely vulnerable Palestine refugees.
The UNRWA Commissioner-General expressed his deep appreciation for the EU's trust and support: “I am very grateful for the European Union’s partnership with UNRWA and commitment towards Palestine refugees at this critical time. This generous additional contribution is highly valued and will make a big difference.”
The EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn said: “This substantial additional contribution once again reaffirms the European Union's longstanding commitment to UNRWA and the continuity of its essential work in service of Palestine refugees. The EU calls on other donors for greater solidarity and burden-sharing to ensure that UNRWA receives adequate resources to protect and maintain its core functions. Adequate and predictable funding requires a joint effort. We expect all to engage in this way to enable the Agency to continue its tasks without disruption and deliver on its efficiency reform plans.”
In June of this year, the EU and UNRWA signed the 2017-2020 Joint Declaration, strengthening the political nature of the EU-UNRWA partnership and reaffirming the European Union’s commitment to promoting the rights of Palestine refugees and supporting the long-term financial stability of the Agency in a context of intensified budgetary constraints and operational challenges.
Published on the UNRWA on October 10, 2017
By Jennifer Rankin
The European Union’s top court has dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy, dealing a blow to the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his allies in central Europe over the bitterly contested policy of refugee quotas.
In an important victory for the EU, judges threw out a challenge against its mandatory relocation scheme, which aims to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers around the bloc.
The victory has sharpened tensions between the EU and Hungary’s combative PM, who has made opposition to EU asylum policy a core theme of his “Stop Brussels” campaign. It will also raise tensions with Poland, which lent its support to the failed legal campaign.
Budapest condemned the court ruling as “appalling and irresponsible”. The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said: “This decision jeopardises the security and future of all of Europe. Politics has raped European law and values.”
The European court of justice (ECJ) said it had dismissed “in their entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary”, vindicating the EU decision-making process that created a scheme to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other member states.
The number was later amended when 54,000 “unused places” were allocated to resettle Syrian refugees in Turkey in Europe. Based on the original 120,000 figure, fewer than a quarter of places have been filled. With the relocation scheme due to expire later this month, the stage is set for bruising arguments over permanent refugee quotas.
EU leaders agreed the emergency plan in September 2015, at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea.
Along with Hungary and Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic also voted against the scheme. Poland belatedly threw its weight behind the legal case after the conservative Law and Justice party came to power in late 2015.
European leaders turned to an untested provision of the EU treaty to force through the decision in an attempt to get to grips with unprecedented numbers of people arriving in the EU.
ECJ judges said the European council had acted lawfully. EU institutions were on firm legal ground when they adopted measures to respond to “an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of displaced persons”, the court said. The ECJ also concluded that the legality of the decision was not affected by retrospective conclusions about the policy’s effectiveness.
In a robust defence of the EU treaties, the court said: “The small number of relocations so far carried out under the contested decision can be explained by a series of factors … including, in particular, the lack of cooperation on the part of certain member states.”
Data released on Wednesday shows that 27,695 refugees have been relocated under the scheme, roughly two-thirds from Greece and a third from Italy. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, said there was “misunderstanding” about the numbers and fewer people than anticipated were eligible for help.
He said 2,800 people in Greece were awaiting relocation and another 2,000 were expected to become eligible. According to official data, in Italy 7,200 eligible asylum seekers have arrived since the start of the year but only 4,000 have been registered, as authorities struggle to cope with arrivals.
Hungary and Poland have not relocated a single person and the Czech Republic has not made any offers for more than a year. All three countries risk being taken to court by the commission. Avramopoulos said the commission was ready to consider that last step. “The door is still open and we should convince all member states to fulfil their commitments, but we should be clear that member states have to show solidarity now.”
The court decision came as the EU executive curtly dismissed Orbán’s request for EU funds to help build a border fence. In a letter from the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, Orbán is chastised for attempting to pick and choose EU policies. “Solidarity is not an à-la-carte dish,” states the letter, first obtained by Politico.
Juncker lists the financial support Hungary has received to manage migrant flows, and the €4m Budapest lost out on by refusing to take part in the refugee relocation scheme. “Solidarity is a two-way street. There are times in which member states may expect to receive support, and times in which they, in turn, should stand ready to contribute,” he writes.
The ECJ ruling was greeted with relief in Brussels. Manfred Weber, the head of the European parliament’s largest centre-right group, tweeted: "#ECJ confirms our view on the migration scheme. We expect all EU countries to respect and implement the ruling. @EPPGroup 1/3"
There was a predictable reaction from anti-EU parties. The former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “What a surprise – EU court undermines national sovereignty once again. It should be a decision of nation states who it allows inside its borders.”
The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. However, after a mass influx in 2015, the number of arrivals has fallen steadily after actions last year that all but closed the route from Turkey to Greece and from Greece to the Balkans and northern Europe. The EU has also increased support for Libya to curb arrivals in Italy.
The ruling has no impact on the UK, which has an opt-out from this area of EU law.
Published on The Guardian on September 6, 2017.
By Nicola Davis
The majority of Europeans support proportional allocation of asylum seekers, a system that takes into account each country’s capacity, research has revealed.
But the study also shows that support for the system is dramatically affected by the number of asylum seekers expected for each country if the policy were implemented.
Published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour by researchers from the US, Britain and Switzerland, the study is based on an online survey of 18,000 citizens of 15 European countries
While, overall, 72% of participants across 15 countries supported proportional allocation when taken at face value, just under 58% backed it when told of its expected impact on the number of asylum seekers in their country. Most countries would see an increase in asylum seekers if they were distributed proportionally.
However, experts say the latest findings add weight to calls for a change in policyfrom current rules in which asylum seekers to Europe should apply in the first country in which they arrive.
“We asked people what kind of asylum system they want and what kind of asylum system they believe is fair, because back then [in 2016 when the survey was conducted], and still now, it is obvious that the current Dublin system is not working,” said Dominik Hangartner, co-author of the research from the London School of Economics.
“We had a little bit of a suspicion that the loudest voices are not necessarily representative of what the majority of the population believes,” said Hangartner.
The team randomly split the participants into four groups. The first was simply asked to select their favourite of three systems for allocating asylum seekers to countries.
One option was that applications for asylum should be allocated to the European country in which the asylum seeker first arrived (the current system); another was that each country should be allocated the same number of asylum applications; and the final option was that each country should receive applications in proportion to its capacity. The latter is a system that takes into account factors such as the country’s population size, GDP, unemployment rate and number of past applications.
The team found that for all 15 countries, the majority of participants backed proportional allocation, with 72% of all those who took part favouring the approach once factors such as age distribution and education levels for each country’s population were taken into account.
The second group of participants was also asked to choose one of the three systems, but they were told how the system currently operates and were presented with arguments for and against policy change. Again, proportional allocation received the majority of support across all countries, with almost 69% of participants backing the system.
The preferences expressed changed dramatically when a third group of participants was told just how many asylum seekers their country would be allocated for each system, based on real-world data from 2015.
“We made it very explicit, very salient, what that would imply in terms of additional numbers of asylum seekers, and asked them the question: ‘OK, which system do you prefer?’” said Hangartner.
For the UK, that would mean an increase from the 38,700 applications under the current system to 43,200 if each country received the same number, and 159,600 under the proportional allocation system.
For all countries, such as Germany, that would receive fewer asylum applications, support for proportional allocation was even higher than for those unaware of the figures. For all countries which would receive more applications under proportional allocation, the reverse was true.
While almost 61% of those in Britain supported proportional allocation on the face of it, only 31% backed the policy when the expected increase in asylum applications was made clear. Similar patterns of support for proportional allocation were seen for the final group of participants, who were given both additional information on the policies and the relevant figures.
Nevertheless, the researchers point out that six of the 10 countries that would see more asylum applications still had a majority in favour of proportional allocation even when the figures were revealed. That, Hangartner said, suggests there might be more support for reform that previously thought, adding that he believes support for proportional allocation is high because it chimes with norms around fairness also seen in other systems.
Judith Dennis, policy manager at the Refugee Council, welcomed the study. “This research confirms our own experience of the public’s clear compassion for refugees and instinct to welcome people seeking asylum,” she said.
“We urge the new government to take heed of this empathy and work to provide protection to our fair share of refugees, as well as support those refugees split from their families to reunite and live together in safety.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it. In 2016, the UK resettled more refugees than any other EU member state, and in the five years up to December 2016 more than 23,000 children and adults have been reunited with family members in Britain.
“However, it is vital we do not incentivise treacherous journeys across Europe which play into the hands of people traffickers. We stand by the well-established principle that those seeking protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.”
Published on The Guardian on June 26, 2017.