D.he summer is approaching, and illegal migration to the European Union is on the rise again. Italy has already called for the solidarity of its EU partners. The heads of state and government will deal with this in two weeks. But when the interior ministers discussed on Tuesday, Rome received little support. Germany, France and other states cited the bare numbers, according to which they take in many more migrants than Italy. That is why they are now increasing the pressure on the EU Commission and especially on Greece.
The EU border protection agency Frontex presented the latest figures for the meeting in Luxembourg. According to this, 42,700 illegal border crossings were found in the first five months of this year, about a third more than in the previous year. Because of the pandemic and travel restrictions, of course, the numbers had dropped to historic lows.
This year, the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy (14,700) and the West African route to the Canary Islands (4,700) are particularly affected. The numbers have roughly doubled on both routes, while they have halved on the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece (to 5400). However, that says little about how many migrants actually arrive in Central Europe. On the Western Balkans route, illegal border crossings rose by 85 percent (13,300).
Many asylum seekers use a loophole
This phenomenon is related to secondary migration. Asylum seekers registered in Greece – most of them from Afghanistan and Syria – migrate north, often with the help of smuggling networks. One part goes to the authorities in the network, the other slips through. There is also a second trend: people who have already received protection in Greece are also moving on.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior has now listed how many there are in a letter to the EU Commission that the FAZ has received. “In Germany alone, more than 17,000 people have made additional asylum applications since July 2020, who have been granted international protection in Greece,” it says there. Those concerned use a loophole: As recognized refugees, they are allowed to travel in the Schengen area for ninety days with their Greek travel document.
The letter written by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) and dated June 1 is signed by his colleagues from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. “For some time now we have been observing a trend of irregular secondary movements of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe, especially from Greece, to other member states in Western and Central Europe,” write the six interior ministers.
This is a “serious problem” because these people cannot be returned to Greece because of “legal hurdles”. This relates to a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2011. According to this, asylum seekers may not be returned to a member state if they are threatened with “inhuman or degrading treatment” there. The judges for Greece had answered in the affirmative, which national courts often refer to.
The ministers call on the EU Commission to ensure that the reception conditions in Greece meet minimum European standards. Athens, for its part, is to issue individual security guarantees for asylum seekers who are to be returned. In addition, they demand that traveling asylum seekers be carefully examined to see whether they really have the necessary means to manage their stay in another country themselves – this is seldom the case in practice. A copy of the letter was sent to the Greek Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachi.
“Great efforts have been made in the asylum system”
He has now responded – in a completely idiosyncratic way. Mitarachi asserts that his country has made a “great effort” in the asylum system and denies that there are serious deficits. Greece is even taking in more migrants than its “fair share” would take. The fact that people then move on is due to the fact that the prospects for integration, work and social benefits are different in the states. One therefore wonders whether more mobility is not the solution instead of less, the minister writes. He immediately adds the answer: “If we are to create a system based on solidarity, then the right of refugees to mobility shows the way.”
The exchange of letters shows how far the EU states are still from a common asylum and migration policy. Nine months after the EU Commission presented its proposal, the old rifts between the countries on the Mediterranean and Central Europe are reopening. This can also be seen in dealing with Italy. Berlin, Paris and others point out that they take in far more migrants than Rome.
Last year alone, around a fifth of the first asylum applications were made in Germany and France, while Italy only made 5 percent. The federal government is also annoyed that Italy is blocking small reforms because it only wants to vote on an overall package. This is currently holding back the expansion of the European Asylum Authority (EASO), although there is political consensus on this. From diplomats it is said: As long as Rome does not move there, it cannot count on relief in Lampedusa itself.