Any future history of the Juncker Commission will devote several chapters to the refugee crisis. And any fair analysis will conclude that policy makers were playing catch-up with the problem.
Thus, the commitment of new Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen to advancing a ‘new pact’ for overcoming the impasse in Europe’s asylum system should be welcomed.
There are immediate steps MEPs can take to make a real difference, such as fast-tracking an agreement on an EU-wide law on resettlement, and pressing the European Commission to coordinate an ambitious collective EU pledge ahead of the Global Refugee Forum in December.
Resettlement is one eminently manageable part of the policy jigsaw. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 1.44 million people will require resettlement in 2020 - more than ever before. These are the most vulnerable refugees, those that may have been victims of torture or widowed families.
Yet while needs continue to rise, countries like Turkey and Lebanon, which host the majority of Syrian refugees, are threatening to expel people seeking protection.
Meanwhile, the international community continues to neglect its responsibilities. The number of resettlement places offered by the international community does not match the situation on the ground. In fact, the US, traditionally the largest home for resettlement of refugees, has slashed its support.
Global resettlement of refugees has dropped by more than 50 percent in just two years. In this current leadership vacuum, the EU has a unique chance to step up its efforts and create sufficient pathways to safety for thousands of people in need.
“The EU has a unique chance to step up its efforts and create sufficient pathways to safety for thousands of people in need”
Even although EU resettlement numbers have risen in recent years and currently - due to the dramatic shift in US policies - represent around 40 percent of global resettlement, this is still not sufficient.
At 22,631 in 2018, EU resettlement places represent only 1.6 percent of the global demand and remain far below the capacity of a wealthy region and major international humanitarian actor such as the EU.
And without safe and legal routes to access asylum, people in need of protection have no choice but to put their lives at risk through desperate and dangerous journeys, as we seen by numerous tragic events in the Mediterranean.
Resettlement is therefore a practical, achievable and essential first step for the EU when putting in place a more managed, predictable response to global displacement.
There are three immediate actions that the European Parliament can take to make this happen.
First, the Parliament should use the forthcoming hearings to call on the European Commission to coordinate an ambitious collective pledge to increase EU resettlement numbers to 30,000 next year, reaching 250,000 refugees by 2025. The first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, which will take place one year after the affirmation of the historic Global Compact on Refugees, would be an ideal opportunity for the EU to make this pledge.
This would send a crucial signal of international solidarity and responsibility-sharing at a time when displacement remains at a record high and the international humanitarian system faces numerous threats.
The Parliament should pressure both incoming European Commissioner Ylva Johannsson and Vice President Margaritis Schinas responsible for migration, ensuring that EU funding is available upfront to offer financial incentives to Member States to bring forward their commitments, rather than making an increase in available budget under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund dependent on the pledges.
“MEPs should urge the Finnish Presidency to encourage Member States to reach a swift agreement with the European Parliament that reflects the word and spirit of the agreement reached in 2018”
Second, the new Parliament should prioritise re-starting the negotiations on an EU-wide resettlement law, the Union Resettlement Framework.
MEPs should urge the Finnish Presidency to encourage Member States to reach a swift agreement with the European Parliament that reflects the word and spirit of the agreement reached in 2018. This met the criteria for an ambitious, humanitarian resettlement framework and could become a first step towards a sustainable response to displacement.
Third, the European Parliament should further consider splitting the Union Resettlement Framework from the remaining Common European Asylum System package. This would allow for the adoption of this crucial framework, which is tantalisingly close to completion.
It would send an important political signal on the EU’s intentions to respect its international obligations and demonstrate solidarity with the developing countries hosting the majority of the world’s refugees.
Inaction is no longer an option; vulnerabilities are already increasing and refugee-hosting regions in the global South are becoming increasingly unstable as the result of the lack of EU leadership.
By urgently adopting a protection-focused Union Resettlement Framework, and collectively pledging to resettle 250,000 refugees by 2025, the Union can truly demonstrate global leadership in the search for a more sensible and humane response to migration.