My Lords, I add my thanks to the European Union Committee and the members of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for this report. I will direct my comments to the specific points made in the report and the conclusions set out in the last two paragraphs in respect of the Council decision that the committee retains under scrutiny.
The number of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean Sea route has increased considerably, rising from 40,000 illegal border crossings in 2013 to more than 170,000 in 2014. On the eastern Mediterranean route through Turkey to the European Union via Greece, southern Bulgaria or Cyprus, there were just over 50,000 illegal border crossings last year. The EU border agency said in March this year that anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million people were waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean.
In response to this major unfolding and all too often tragic humanitarian disaster in the Mediterranean, the European Commission, as the report says, published a proposal just under two months ago for a mandatory emergency relocation scheme in respect of Syrian and Eritrean nationals who arrive in Italy and Greece seeking asylum. The scheme aims to relocate 40,000 people to other member states over the next two years. The EU Committee report notes:
“While the Commission has presented the current proposal as a temporary measure, it intends that it should be a precursor to a permanent and mandatory scheme”,
to be brought forward by the end of this year.
Under the proposal, responsibility for deciding the asylum claim would rest with the member state that accepts the relocated asylum seeker. Doing this would constitute a temporary and limited departure from the usual Dublin system for determining which state is responsible for processing an asylum claim, namely the member state through which the applicant entered the EU. Our opt-in arrangements mean that we decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in new EU legislative measures on asylum and immigration. In this instance, the three-month deadline for indicating that we wish to participate in its negotiation and adoption, if that be the case, falls on
In an article in a national newspaper on
A number of other member states have also expressed their opposition to the introduction of mandatory relocation quotas. The European Union Committee’s report refers to a lack of clarity in the light of the European Council meeting on
“not in a position to express a view on the relative merits of a voluntary and a mandatory scheme, but we do not understand why the Commission, despite the clearly expressed view of the European Council, should have persisted in proposing a mandatory scheme, which it must have known was unlikely to be accepted by the Member States”.
The report also draws attention to the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum, in which they state their opposition to mandatory relocation and any form of relocation of asylum cases within the EU, and their conclusion that they are minded not to opt in to the proposal. However, as has been said, the committee’s report goes on to say that the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum,
“leaves open the possibility that this position may be reviewed before the deadline of
subject to three factors. These factors are that the proposal is amended to be a voluntary scheme, that there is consideration of how to implement an effective response to the situation in the Mediterranean, and that there is consideration of how the UK can contribute to a,
“response to migratory pressures on some Member States without opting in”.
No doubt the Minister will be updating us on whether the Government anticipate, or are, reviewing their position.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, the committee’s report sets out the reasons why it is not convinced by some of the Government’s objections to the proposed decision, before stating:
“The Government’s approach will do little to help the response to a humanitarian crisis within the EU’s borders”,
“The reputational risk of a continued failure to act, to individual Member States as well as to the EU as a whole, is great”.
The report concludes by saying that the committee believes that,
“it is in the United Kingdom’s interest to take part in the negotiation”,
of the proposed Council decision,
“and that, should an amended or a new proposal be brought forward giving effect to the European Council’s Conclusions in April and June 2015, the Government should reconsider its position and opt in”.
There is an obvious difficulty in expressing a view about specific proposals that, as I understand it, have not yet been made and conceivably may never be made. We have already said that we should decouple asylum from migration targets, since the considerations in determining our decisions on these two issues are—or should be—very different. We have already said that we would take more Syrian refugees. However, with respect to relocating those asylum seekers who have already entered the EU through Italy and Greece, the responsibility for processing their asylum claims should remain, as now, with the member states through which the applicants entered the EU and not with the member states, including the United Kingdom, that accept the relocated asylum seekers. Neither could we go along with a proposal that told us how many refugees we had to take, since that is a decision that should be made in this country, by this country.
The Prime Minister has announced a modest expansion of the UK’s resettlement programme, particularly for vulnerable Syrian refugees. I conclude by simply asking the Minister: on the basis of what criteria have decisions to date implementing that modest expansion been made? How modest has that expansion been? Are any changes in the criteria being considered?