Just 207 asylum seekers relocated under Solidarity Pact as voluntary scheme fails

Malta MEPs release statements demanding concrete measures for border states over failure of voluntary solidarity mechanism

Asylum seekers rescued at sea being relocated to France
Asylum seekers rescued at sea being relocated to France

Malta’s MEPs are flexing their muscles ahead of a European summit on migration in which calls from the centre-right EPP to build border fences have been taken up by David Casa, with Labour MEPs joining the fray in calling for greater solidarity.

Only 207 asylum seekers have been transferred under a voluntary solidarity mechanism as part of the Solidarity Pact – all of them from Italy – in what reads as yet another failure on the EU’s attempts to get member states to share the responsibility of asylum.

The VSM, established in the summer of 2022 for relocating refugees from states such as Italy, Greece and Malta, was shown to have lacked the necessary element of solidarity itself, as stated in an internal European Commission paper.

The paper shows that the entire scheme could be in jeopardy due to a failure by other EU member states to actually accept people for relocation.

As of 1 December 2022, only 207 people had been transferred, all of them from Italy, with the Commission noting that across the “Med5” countries – Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain – there were “around 600 pre-acceptances but very few transfers, leading to a rather disappointing result for the end of 2022.”

The low level of relocations is in sharp contrast to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, which have been welcomed across Europe. As usual, the regional affinity of a recognisable war in Europe accords such refugees priority over sub-Saharan migrants rescue in the Central Mediterranean by NGOs, which are being criminalised by EU states like Italy.

The Commission paper says that member states’ unwillingness to accept relocations is a main cause for the “disappointing” results, but also highlights a range of “bottlenecks” that prevent people from being transferred out of the Mediterranean states. They include the need to be able to identify such relocation candidates into a ‘relocation hub’.

Member states have also failed to allocate sufficient resources to relocation, while “restrictive preferences expressed by pledging States” make it almost impossible to match suitable candidates with the active pledges.

The failure of the VSM echoes what happened with the relocation scheme set up after the “crisis” of 2015, following the Lampedusa tragedy, where the creation of strict selection criteria meant there were insufficient candidates for relocation in the first place.

“Solidarity between member states in sharing the burdens of incoming migration flows remains in limbo and caught in a stalemate. For this reason, the European Commission’s attempts to achieve a compromise sound like a diplomatic fudge,” Labour MEP Alfred Sant said earlier this week during a plenary discussion with the Swedieh presidency of the Council and the European Commission on the preparation of the special European Council meeting of February, to develop sustainable solutions in the area of asylum and migration.

“While European action over the Ukrainian refugee emergency has been admirable, that very success has served to cloud the issues that need to be resolved over asylum and migration from Africa and Asia. Besides, this is fuelling perceptions outside the Union that Europe applies discriminatory standards according to who the arrivals are and where they come from.”

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer also accused the majority of member states of having left a few countries carry the migration burden alone by freezing the discussions for over eight years in Council by the using the unanimity rule as a tool to stifle discussions.

“After eight years since negotiations began on the migration pact, Ggvernments are mainly still stuck at the point of departure,” Engerer said. “European challenges require common European solutions. Member states cannot leave Mediterranean countries alone to solve humanitarian crises in our seas.”