The Council for justice and home affairs adopted on October 8 a number of conclusions on the future of the return policy for migrants. The conclusions follow a text adopted by the committee representing the heads of the missions to the EU of all Member States. The Council calls on the EU and its Member States to do more in terms of return of illegal migrants.
According to an EU official, to whom The Brussels Times spoke on conditions of anonymity, the Council reached a political understanding by consensus. The conclusions are not binding on the member states but they are expected to increase the return rates as a deterrent to irregular migration.
The Council states that adequate financial resources need to be allocated to increase the effectiveness of the EU’s return system with particular attention being paid to support Member States under strong migratory pressure. Practical cooperation among Member States on return is an essential element in increasing the return rate.
A crucial element in the return policy is the application of Directive 2013/32/EU of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection.
According to the directive’s article 33 on “inadmissible applications”, Member States “may” consider an application for international protection as inadmissible if another country which is not a Member State is considered as a first country of asylum or a safe country.
A country can be considered to be a first country of asylum for a particular applicant if he or she has been recognised in that country as a refugee and he or she can still avail himself/herself of that protection or he or she otherwise enjoys sufficient protection in that country. The safe country concept requires a connection between the applicant and the third country concerned.
Most Syrian migrants and refugees to Europe in recent months have arrived via or from Turkey after fleeing the war in their country. EU and Turkey agreed on 6 October on an action plan to step up cooperation on support of refugees and migration management aiming among others at protecting EU’s external borders.
There is however no direct link between the action plan and the Council’s conclusions, according to the EU official. The European Commission did not respond to a request for further clarification of the Council conclusions.
The Council stresses that the readmission of own nationals is an obligation under international customary law and that all States need to abide by this obligation. It welcomes the introduction of the “more-for-more principle” as a way to increase the EU’s and Member States’ leverage. In return for readmission and return of refugees, the EU may offer visa liberation.
The compatibility of the Directive or its application by Member States with the EU treaties or the Geneva Convention on the status of refugees may be tested in the European Court of Justice but this has as far as is known not happened yet.
Statistics from EU’s statistical office Eurostat shows that the number of third country nationals found to be illegally present in EU’s 28 member states and ordered to leave amounted to 470 000 persons in 2014. The actual number of third country nationals who returned in 2014 were 192 000 or 41 %.
Persons who left the territory within the year may have been subject to an obligation to leave in a previous year. As with the approval rate of asylum applications, the return rate varies by country. Countries with low approval rates have high return rates.
The Brussels Times