On 9 November, I attended the extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council in Brussels. The meeting was convened by the Luxembourg Presidency in response to the ongoing European migration crisis. The discussion focused on continuing efforts to manage migration pressures, including those at the external EU border, and efforts to improve the effectiveness of the migration ‘hotspots’ in Italy and Greece. The Council also discussed the implementation of relocation measures, in which the UK is not participating.
The Presidency urged Member States to deliver on the pledges made at previous JHA Councils to support those frontline Member States experiencing the most pressure. The UK is contributing substantial practical assistance in this regard.
The Council Conclusions agreed emphasised the need to implement the measures already approved, and the need to include tougher language on addressing non-compliance with asylum processes. I pressed for the Conclusions to clearly state that genuine asylum seekers must claim asylum at the first point of entry and that illegal migrants not in need of protection must be swiftly returned. I welcomed tougher language on combating abuse, especially in light of the great expense faced by Member States in processing those not in need of protection. And I made clear that Member States need to use detention as necessary in order to prevent secondary movement by those refusing to comply with asylum processes at the external border.
I also made clear that the EU is seeing an unprecedented interaction between organised crime and migration – and that there will continue to be serious security implications as long as the EU’s external border controls fail to be properly enforced. I encouraged the Council to think about how information can be shared to ensure the UK can get access to the intelligence we need, and can take the decisions that keep us safe. I stressed the need for reciprocal access to key data between Schengen and non-Schengen countries and for better use of the information we have, not just for managing migration but also to ensure security.
I argued that the EU must also pay more attention to managing secondary movements. This should include recognising the significant impact of applications for family reunification and reducing the scope for abuse of free movement rights. It cannot be right that, following the Metock judgment, third country nationals illegally present in the EU could avoid return through EU law on free movement.
The Presidency announced the activation of the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) mechanism, which will produce regular analysis of information provided by Member States, facilitating a joint response to the current crisis. I confirmed that the UK would continue to respond quickly to requests under the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, as well as working directly with Non-Governmental Organisations and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR).
I made clear that the Government sees resettlement as an essential element in a comprehensive response to the crisis. Taking those in need of protection directly from the region under national schemes should remain the preferred approach. The UK is making good progress towards our aim to resettle 20,000 people by the end of this Parliament and we have teams working with UNHCR to identify the most vulnerable genuine refugees for our national programme.
The Council remained split on whether to take forward the Commission’s proposal for a permanent crisis relocation mechanism. The Council Conclusions undertake to examine pending legislative proposals on this matter. The Government does not support relocation as it is the wrong response to the migratory pressures the EU faces. It undermines the important principle that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and does not address the causes of illegal migration.