Between Solidarity and the Priority to Protect – Where Refugee Relocation meets Refugee Resettlement
As resettlement in Europe continues to evolve, its effectiveness in responding to humanitarian emergencies and long term refugee situations beyond EU territory has been challenged by difficulties which are related to how EU Member States answer the question – What does the resettlement of refugees consist of?
Solidarity of Member States with third states is perhaps best demonstrated through resettlement while relocation is an example of internal Member State solidarity. There is a need to define both of these terms. It has been made clear by the Commission in its Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the establishment of a joint EU resettlement programme (page 3) that, unlike resettlement which is considered a humanitarian enterprise concerned with solidarity with third countries, relocation is a ‘burden sharing’ exercise, at the heart of which is solidarity between EU Member States north and south.
The Know Reset project has considered how this defined difference does not prevent Member States from allowing overlap between these two distinct undertakings. The importance of access to protection for refugees prompted the EU to begin to explore more feasible methods by which refugees may be taken by Member States and given protection. These refugees did not therefore have to gain access to Union territory. This resettlement was widely regarded as being in solidarity with the European neighbourhood – especially non-Member States to the south.
As resettlement evolved the idea of this external solidarity became somewhat confused by expressions of internal solidarity. Those persons who gained access to Member State territory through ‘irregular’ means and later became refugees have, in certain circumstances, been relocated to other Member States. Most of these clandestine arrivals have been to Mediterranean Member States who have found themselves under intense strain from such migration. As an act of solidarity, Member States have taken refugees from their fellow Member State.
The following is a table of those EU Member States which have relocated under the EUREMA programme in Malta according to the EASO report on that programme. This relocation programme is an intra-European initiative which takes internationally protected individuals from one Member State and finds another Member State willing to accept these individuals.
*Denotes Member States which have committed to relocate refugees as part of the EUREMA programme but have yet to do so.
Relocation from Malta is on-going and uptake in participation has increased. The word which arises time and time again among the States which participate is solidarity. The States which participate are, more often than not, northern EU Member States. They are not on the receiving end of the heavy migration flows which reach the southern, Mediterranean Member States. On that basis, relocation from the Mediterranean to their own State is seen as an act of solidarity.
The tension arises through certain Member States, typically those which are most experienced in resettlement, calling into question whether relocation comes at the expense of resettlement. Resettlement undoubtedly remains the preferable response to those most in need. The priority to protect those who have not been able to gain access to European territory should remain the primary objective in the view of certain Member States.
Malta, the home of the EASO, has been the venue of the aforementioned EU relocation pilot project – EUREMA. An emerging role of the EASO is in evaluating the relocation pilot project as can be seen from the EASO’s September newsletter.
It has become clear that there may be a risk of using relocation as a substitute for resettlement. This is a misperception that the EU, Member States and the EASO must be mindful of in participating in refugee relocation in Europe. The friction between relocation and resettlement indeed points to the greater challenges in achieving a functioning and effective solidarity within the Common European Asylum System.
In July of 2012, the EASO released a fact finding report on intra-EU relocation activities from Malta. Respondents to the report expressed “mixed” views on relocation:
“While a number of participating States maintained that voluntary ad hoc relocation measures with Malta were a concrete tool for demonstrating intra-EU solidarity, and generally assessed them positively, other States feared that …relocation …could act as a pull factor for irregular migration…”
“…concerns were expressed about the possible implication of relocation on the resettlement quotas in the EU. It was stressed that intra-EU relocation should not be confused with resettlement of refugees from third countries.”
The EASO here underline what must be a pivotal consideration if the resettlement of refugees in Europe is to increase quantitatively and qualitatively. As part of our research we have recorded reaction to relocation across the twenty-seven EU Member States. Interesting perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of relocation have been gathered and provide an insight into State behaviour.
Differing attitudes were identified among Member States toward relocation – some advocate for it, certain States are opposed to it and still others seem not to differentiate completely between relocation and resettlement.
Of those States which express doubt as to the use of relocation, a Swedish opinion on the matter was expressed in an interview by Know Reset with a political adviser to the Swedish Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy. That adviser stated that Sweden is doubtful as to the use of relocation; it was stated that the places used for relocation should instead be used for resettlement from outside the EU. The interviewee went on to state that there were alternative measures of solidarity which could be pursued if Member States wanted to express their solidarity. Finland is of a similar disposition to their Scandinavian neighbours. Finland and Sweden represent two traditional resettlement countries. Both States have well established and large resettlement on a programme basis. Another interesting emerging viewpoint from our research in Scandinavia is that the Member States to the north often do not accept that reducing the pressure on its southern counterparts should be a legitimate aim. This sentiment should be considered in the context of the northern Member States believing that they already take a considerable share of the so-called ‘burden’ of refugee numbers. This is interesting when it is considered how often intra-EU solidarity is proffered by certain Member States as a reason for pursuing relocation.
Slovakia does not conduct resettlement but has announced that it intends to participate in relocation. Hungary is in a similar position. Lithuania committed in 2011 to relocate from Malta but that declaration has yet to be implemented. A trend for certain States is emerging that if they do not participate in resettlement, they may instead be involved in relocation. The overwhelming reason given for this is that of solidarity with EU partners to the south. If those countries were not involved in relocation, would they be resettling refugees? This question is impossible to answer definitively however a tendency has emerged for newer Member States, which are oftentimes new to refugee resettlement as well, to primarily pursue relocation as an avenue of EU solidarity in terms of refugee intake.
Finally, there also exists a grey area in between preferences for resettlement and preferences for relocation. Ireland and France typify this intermediary position. Refugees whom arrive to the State as part of a relocation regime may be included in the quota of that State for refugee resettlement. The need to differentiate between relocation and resettlement is particularly salient in this context.
The overwhelming message to be gleaned is that the relocation of refugees within Europe must not come at the expense of resettlement. Resettlement, the humanitarian enterprise, underlines the priority to protect. Taking refugees from third States beyond the Union which are host to much larger numbers of refugees is taking the most vulnerable and giving them an opportunity that they otherwise will not receive. Protection must be the priority and as difficult as conditions are within certain Member States for refugees, if they are at least properly protected then it is still a fortunate situation in comparison to the precarious position of many refugees in camps across the world.
The EASO can play a role in ensuring that relocation is not carried out at the expense of granting resettlement to those refugees who are eligible for resettlement and who are still at risk and should be a protection priority. National authorities should also be aware of the distinction and the importance of not putting protection priorities behind the commendable desire to express solidarity with other Member States. This balance must always be at the forefront of any consideration of relocation.
This article is based on the results of the research led within the framework of the KNOW RESET project.
The Know Reset team recently teamed up with the EASO Monitor blog in considering the EASO’s growing role in resettlement in Europe. The thanks of the Know Reset team goes to Dr. Neil Falzon and everyone at Aditus and the EASO monitor for the original collaboration.
Frank Mc Namara, Research Assistant to Know Reset.
The EUI, RSCAS and MPC are not responsible for the opinion expressed by the author(s). Furthermore, the views expressed in this publication cannot in any circumstances be regarded as the official position of the European Union.