European Nations Are Falling Far Short of Their Commitment to Resettle Refugees

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The European Commission warned EU member states on Thursday that “there are no more excuses” for not delivering on promises to take on refugees.

A child refugee looks at a police barricade as people push to open the Greek-Macedonian border at their makeshift camp in the northern border village of Idomeni, Greece, on April 7, 2016. (Credit: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

A child refugee looks at a police barricade as people push to open the Greek-Macedonian border at their makeshift camp in the northern border village of Idomeni, Greece, on April 7, 2016. (Credit: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Overall, 13,546 people have been relocated so far — less than 10 percent of the 160,000 asylum seekers European countries committed to resettle from overcrowded camps in Italy and Greece in 2015, the commission said.

To date, 3,936 people from Italy and 9,610 from Greece have been moved to safety — 8 percent of the total European Union target.

And so far just two member states, Malta and Finland, are on track to meet their resettling obligations.

Hungary, Austria and Poland are still refusing to participate in the resettlement plan, due to end in September. Other Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia, are only doing so on a limited basis, the commission said.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner of migration, home affairs and citizenship, cautioned that countries failing to meet their commitments would face fines extending beyond the end of the resettlement plan in September, describing it as an “outstanding bill.”

“There are no more excuses for the member states not to deliver. It is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September,” Avramopoulos said. “It entirely depends on the political will and perseverance of member states to make it happen.”

Men scramble for firewood after a truck brought five tons to the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonia border on March 6, 2016. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Men scramble for firewood after a truck brought five tons to the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonia border on March 6, 2016. (Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Despite February setting a new monthly record with around 1,940 relocations, the current pace remains well below the European Council targets of at least 3,000 a month from Greece and 1,500 from Italy.

“Responsibility cannot be fairly shared without solidarity. All our measures are interlinked, and member states cannot cherry-pick what they deliver on,” Avramopoulos said, adding that the commission could launch proceedings leading to possible fines.

Some progress on resettlement

Conversely, the commission welcomed progress on resettlement by European countries.

According to a commission statement, member states have “provided safe and legal pathways to 14,422 persons so far, over half of the agreed 22,504 under the EU resettlement scheme.”

That number includes 3,565 Syrians resettled through the EU-Turkey deal, a controversial agreement aimed at stemming the tide of migrants and refugees making their way from Turkey into Europe. Under the deal, the EU accepts one Syrian living in a Turkish camp for each migrant returned to Turkey in a “one-for-one” exchange.

“To improve our management of migration we need to continue to implement our comprehensive approach — from relocation and resettlement, to the operationalization of the European Border and Coast Guard and through continued engagement with Turkey,” said Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president.

Now, one year since the EU-Turkey deal was signed, average daily arrivals of refugees to the Greek islands are down to 43, from around 1,740 in 2016. At the height of the refugee crisis in October 2015, daily crossings from Turkey to the Greek islands reached a staggering 10,000 in a single day.