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Communication on the State of Play of Implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration, 10 February 2016

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Brussels, 10.2.2016 COM(2016) 85 final

COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL on the State of Play of Implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration

I INTRODUCTION: MANAGING THE REFUGEE CRISIS

There are over 60 million refugees or internally displaced people across the globe – the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War. Conflict and crisis in Syria and elsewhere have acted as an immediate trigger, but underlying trends in demographics, climate change, poverty, globalisation in transport and communications all played a part in the record numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in the European Union in 2015. This combination of factors is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future. In 2016 we therefore need a radical strengthening of the EU migration system. We must move beyond dealing with the consequences of unmanaged and irregular flows of persons, to real preparedness to manage such flows and towards managed and legal means of entry for those in need of protection, while at the same time quickly and effectively identifying and returning those who have no right to be in the European Union.

The second half of the year 2015 saw unprecedented numbers of people entering the European Union irregularly. At the peak in October 2015, over 200,000 people arrived in Greece in one month. Even with a substantial fall to just over 60,000 in January, the figures remain high for the winter months as compared to previous years. The intensified conflict in Syria in recent days is expected to lead to a further influx of refugees into Turkey. This means that European solidarity will continue to be called upon, in line with the responsibilities the EU has assumed under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and the humanitarian values to which all Member States of the European Union have signed up to. The EU must also remove the need for refugees to make perilous journeys by helping them closer to home. While a reduction in flows is highly desirable in view of often overwhelmed national and local authorities, there should be no illusions that the refugee crisis will end before its root causes – instability, war and terror in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, notably continued war and atrocities in Syria – are addressed in a definite manner. The only responsible course of action is to face this reality and to explain it openly and honestly to citizens; and to step up efforts to better and more effectively manage the consequences of this situation in the European Union by means of a better coordinated European approach and in line with the commonly agreed EU rules and values.

In recent months, a route has formed through the Eastern Mediterranean and across the Western Balkans which sees migrants passing swiftly north through one border after another, in fundamental contradiction with the principles of the Common European Asylum System and the Schengen rules.
This in turn led several Member States to resort to reintroducing temporary internal border controls, putting into question the proper functioning of the Schengen area of free movement and its benefits to European citizens and the European economy. Security is also of utmost concern, particularly in the wake of recent terrorist attacks on European soil, and has been invoked by certain Member States to justify such temporary measures. The objective must be to ensure that every person who arrives in the EU is subject to thorough security checks.

Over the last six months, the European Commission has consistently and continuously worked for a swift, coordinated European response. It tabled an extensive series of proposals designed to equip Member States with the tools necessary to manage the large number of arrivals, many of which have already been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council. From tripling our presence at sea; through a new system of emergency solidarity to relocate asylum seekers from the most affected countries; via an unprecedented mobilisation of the EU budget of over €10 billion to address the refugee crisis and assist the countries most affected; providing a new coordination and cooperation framework for the Western Balkan countries; starting a new partnership with Turkey; all the way to an ambitious proposal for a new European Border and Coast Guard, we are bolstering Europe's asylum and migration policy to deal with the new challenges it is facing.

While important building blocks of a sustainable system of migration management are now in place on paper, it is their swift, full implementation on the ground that has been lacking. In December, the European Commission reported on the progress made on the execution of decisions taken by the Member States and found that implementation was too slow. Two months later, some progress has been made on a range of issues. It remains the case, however, that several deadlines have not been met and many commitments are still slow to be fulfilled. Political responsibilities need to be assumed at highest level in all Member States to ensure that the agreed coordinated European response can address the refugee crisis swiftly and efficiently on the ground by national and local authorities with the EU support and assistance that has been made available over the past months.

Restoring orderly management of borders on the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route is the most pressing priority for the European Union today. At the upcoming European Council meeting, leaders need to commit to do whatever is necessary to restore order to the migration system and impose control of the irregular and uncontrolled flows through the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route before the spring. This will require tough decisions, determined action, responsibility and solidarity by all Member States.

Most importantly, all Member States must commit to ending the 'wave-through' approach to those who indicate an interest in applying for asylum elsewhere. People arriving in the Union must know that if they need protection they will receive it, but it is not their choice to decide where. If they do not qualify for protection, they will be returned, in full respect of the principle of non-refoulement.

Greece and countries upstream on the Western Balkans route will need substantial support to effectively register and process those in need of protection, and to swiftly return those who are not to their home countries or other safe third countries they have transited through. The other Member States must give effect to their commitments to share the responsibility to provide reception and refuge to those entitled to it, through accelerating the implementation of the emergency relocation schemes already in place since September 2015. Accordingly, whilst Greece must do the necessary to return to the normal application of the Schengen external border control and Dublin rules, it cannot be left to face the consequences of the refugee crisis alone, but should continue to receive financial support and technical assistance from the EU institutions and agencies and from all other Member States to cope with the responsibilities of a Member State of first entry as provided for by the commonly agreed EU rules.

This Communication takes stock of the implementation of the actions agreed in response to the refugee crisis and highlights key areas where more action is needed in the immediate term to restore control of the situation. The Commission will provide further input on the more fundamental changes necessary for a sustainable migration policy, and in particular reform of the Dublin system, ahead of the March European Council.