The proposal takes over from Joint Action 1999/290/JHA designed to provide material support for the reception and voluntary repatriation of refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers, under which 64 projects mounted by NGOs, international organisations and national administrations at a cost of €15 million were selected on 7 December last to:
- improve reception conditions for asylum-seekers and streamline eligibility procedures,
- promote action to enable refugees, displaced persons and asylum-seekers who so wish to return to their country of origin in the best possible conditions.
The proposed decision combines in a single instrument, set up for five years, actions for the reception of asylum-seekers, integration of refugees and voluntary repatriation.
In addition, drawing on the experience of the Kosovo crisis, it makes a distinction between the funding of "structural" measures and emergency aid for one or more Member States in the event of the sudden arrival of large numbers of refugees or displaced persons. In this respect the initiative can be considered an initial response to the request made to the Commission by the Tampere European Council to look into the possibility of "making some form of financial reserve available in situations of mass influx of refugees for temporary protection". The Commission has created the appropriate legal framework for this purpose. The allocation for 2000 is €26 million, with a reserve of €10 million for emergency operations, but this amount may be reviewed in future budgets to match the real scale of needs.
The European Refugee Fund is based on Article 63(2)(b) of the EC Treaty and is designed to help achieve a balance in the efforts made by Member States in receiving refugees and displaced persons and in bearing the consequences this entails.
The distribution of the resources between Member States is proportional to the number of asylum-seekers they receive (two thirds) and the number of refugees they shelter on their territory (one third). The proportion of co-financing supplied by the Fund is 50%, but this may be raised to 75% in the Member States qualifying for the Cohesion Fund, to compensate for lack of facilities.
The beneficiaries of the measures to be financed by the Fund are made up of two "target groups": refugees (persons granted this status and asylum-seekers) and displaced persons (who have been granted or have applied for some form of international protection). Among the measures qualifying for funding, priority will go to concrete and targeted actions. This will cover:
- as regards reception conditions: the development or adjustment of infrastructure or accommodation services, supply of material aid (e.g. clothing or food), social assistance or help with administrative formalities in connection with the asylum procedure;
- as regards integration: help with formalities to obtain accommodation, assistance or healthcare, language training or help in finding employment;
- as regards voluntary repatriation and reintegration in the country of origin: information on the existence of return programmes and on the situation in the country, general or vocational training, and even resettlement;
- as regards emergency aid: reception and accommodation, supply of means of subsistence, medical psychological or other assistance.