Brussels tells Poland, Hungary to take in migrants or face legal action
BRUSSELSThe European Union’s executive stepped up pressure on Poland and Hungary on April 12 to take in asylum seekers under the bloc’s migration plan or risk legal action if their reluctant governments refuse.
Warsaw and Budapest have stonewalled the scheme to move 160,000 people from Italy and Greece - the main ports of arrival - to elsewhere in the EU. Other member states have also dragged their feet, leaving the divisive plan stalled.
The eurosceptic governments in Poland and Hungary have also put their media and judiciary under tighter state control, raising concerns in Brussels and other EU capitals that they are infringing on the bloc’s democratic checks and balances.
The influx of some 1.6 million refugees and migrants into the EU in 2014-2016 has led to rows on how to share the burden among member states. Only about 16,340 people have been moved so far under the emergency scheme that ends in September.
“If Member States do not increase their relocations soon, the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers ... for those which have not complied,” the bloc’s executive arm said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The Commission had proposed to fine member states for failing to take in migrants, but there has been little political backing for such a step. A court case would not resolve the issue quickly, but could add to mounting pressure for action from other EU states.
Italy has been in the forefront of calling for cuts to EU subsidies to Poland and Hungary over migration. Germany, Sweden, Austria and France - the most frequent final destinations - have also been stepping up pressure on the hold-outs.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have taken in only a few asylum seekers and the European Commission also underlined their weak response to the plan.
The Commission statement recalled the relocation plan was decided by EU leaders in September 2015 despite Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voting against it. Although generally opposed to it, Poland eventually voted with majority.
In rare good news, Brussels noted that Austria has now decided to join the relocation program. Vienna was previously exempted since it had taken in some 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015 as it sits on one of the key migratory routes into Europe.
Austria’s interior minister said he would make preparations for the country to receive people, with the first group expected to be around 50 unaccompanied children from Italy.
Some 14,000 people are currently eligible for relocation from Greece, the Commission said. It recommended that Italy speed up the necessary legal and security proceedings as it currently only has some 3,500 people waiting to be moved.
EU boosts child migrant protection efforts
The EU also announced steps on April 12 to better protect child migrants running the risk of abuse as they reach Europe in record numbers, including avoiding placing them in detention centers.
The European Commission also called for deploying child protection officers to migrant reception centers in countries such as Greece and Italy.
“The number of children arriving in the EU with or without their families has increased dramatically,” Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said, AFP reported.
“Children should be our top priority as they are the most vulnerable, especially when they have nobody to guide them,” Timmermans said.
The Commission said around one-third of the asylum seekers in Europe is a child. According to Eurostat, more than 1.2 million new asylum requests were registered in EU countries last year, after nearly 1.26 million in 2015.
Among the list of new measures, the Commission said “everything must be done to provide alternatives to administrative detention for children.”
The Commission called for bolstering the role of guardians for unaccompanied minors, of which an estimated 90,000 entered the bloc last year, according to EU figures.
It said all children should have immediate access to legal aid, health care, psychological support and education.